Conservation scientists have developed a new technique to authenticate and determine the age of silk artefacts held in museums and collections, the Smithsonian Institution announced Monday.
Carbon dating is too destructive for most silk items, scientists said. The new method uses the natural deterioration of silk’s amino acids to determine its age by calculating that change over time — a process known as racemisation. Archaeologists and forensic anthropologists have used this process for years to date bones, shells and teeth.
Mehdi Moini, the lead research scientist on the study, said the project began in 2003 with an earlier effort to separate the two types of amino acids. Scientists were searching for ways to preserve museum artefacts as materials degrade over time. That led to this new method to determine the time when silk was produced by a silk worm. Only a tiny millimetre-size sample is required.
The process could be useful for museums and commercial and law enforcement efforts to detect counterfeit artefacts.
“A lot of collectors out there with these kinds of collections are thinking, is this authentic what I bought? Counterfeiting is not uncommon,” Moini said.
Smithsonian conservators develop new technique to determine age of silk artefacts — The Washington Post