Classification of Hungarian Medieval Silver Coins Using X-Ray Fluorescent Spectroscopy and Multivariate Data Analysis

Article excerpt

Authors: Anita Racz [1]; Karoly Heberger (corresponding author) [2]; Robert Rajko [3]; Janos Elek [4]


Elemental analysis is used for the examination of coins and other metal objects in the field of archeology. By determining the elemental composition of an object, one can find out about the used ore and its origin, as well as the age of the artifact. One can also come to conclusions about economic history, based on the changes of concentrations of various elements over time in the coins. In the medieval ages, minting workshops were usually built close to mines, so the identification of the precious metal mines could also mean the determination of the place of coinage.

The aim of research was to assign the coins to different groups with the best possible precision based on the acquired chemical information and to build models, which arrange the coins according to their historical periods.

Discovering relationship between elemental composition of coins and their origin has begun in the past 10-15?years with energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy devices (XRF). Publications, which connect elemental compositions to historical periods can be found scarcely in the literature, moreover only principal component analysis is applied for the evaluation of the data.

Greek and Romanian researchers used X-ray fluorescence spectra to categorize antique coins made between the 4th and 1st centuries B.C., by their places of origin and recovery [1, 2].

In another paper two types of medieval coins were examined with XRF, proton-induced X-ray emission analysis (PIXE) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM/EDX) [3]. Data were evaluated with principal component analysis and the aim was to classify the coins by their places of origin [3]. It was concluded, that PIXE was less appropriate for the measurement of corroded coins due to its lower depth of penetration. The classification of coins into two groups was successful and so was the recognition of unknown samples.

Similar measurements were carried out on coins from the eras of the Spanish War of Independence and of Ancient Greece [4, 5]. They were partially successful in classifying the coins according to their places and time of coinage [4, 5].

Besides the determination of places of origin, X-ray spectra and elemental compositions can also be applied to rule out counterfeit coins. Minemasa Hida et al compared counterfeit and valid 500[yen] coins by elemental composition [6]. The coins were successfully differentiated by PCA, as well as by cluster analysis. Moreover, two separate clusters were identified within the group of counterfeit coins [6].

Another interesting application of manual XRF devices is to determine limits of detection through various kinds of packaging: potentially they could be used to rule out post bombs and other explosives [7]. As we can see, measurements carried out with XRF are useful in supporting not only the work of archaeologists, but also the work of the authorities.


X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy

During X-ray fluorescent analysis [8, 9] the surface of a sample is irradiated by X-ray beam. By applying the appropriate energy, a photoelectron is emitted. The vacancy then is filled by an outer electron, while the energy difference is emitted in the form of X-ray fluorescent radiation. The excitation energies correspond to the emission lines of the elements, while the intensity of the emission provides information about their concentration on the sample surface.

The X-ray fluorescent technique provides quick non-destructive analysis. It gives information about the composition of metallic and non-metallic surfaces without the need for any pretreatment. The technique is independent from the chemical state of the elements, but it doesn?t give information about the chemical bonds (oxidation state) of the examined elements. …