Can past nuclear explosions advance art history?

A former curator from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg
believes they can. She has developed a new method for dating paintings
in collaboration with Russian scientists which, she says, provides
“indisputable” evidence of whether a painting was made before or after
1945.

According to the inventors, the new patented technology is based on the
idea that man-made nuclear explosions in the 1940s and 1950s released
isotopes into the environment that do not occur naturally. The tiniest
traces of these isotopes, Caesium-137 and Strontium-90, permeated the
planet’s soil and plant life, and eventually ended up in all works of
art made in the post-war era because natural oils are used as binding
agents for paints.

Therefore, they believe that any work of art
originally believed to pre-date World War II, but which registers trace
amounts of Caesium-137 and Strontium-90, can be “definitively” declared
a post-1945 forgery.

Here is the full story.  It’s worth noting that many categories in the art world show rates of forgery approaching 50 percent or higher.

Comments

Smart. Hope she gets her patent.

The value of superannuated stocks of artists materials - I do not think that traditional dealers ever clear out the warehouse voluntarily - has just risen sharply.

This was also done for judging bottles of pre-1945 wine as genuine or counterfeit. The New Yorker article on fakes of Thomas Jefferson's wine explained the technique.

Can you grow the plants in question hydroponically? In a greenhouse in Antarctica? By digging up soil from an old mine shaft? Can you genetically engineer bacteria to produce the natural oils in question? If there's enough money at stake, someone will probably find a way.

I'm not entirely sure exactly what is novel and patentable here. I know for certain that a French physicist named Philippe Hubert has put alleged vintage wines into a rather sensitive gamma spectrometer, found traces of Cs-137 and Sr-90, and put fraudsters in jail.

(One actually sees an increase in the levels of these isotopes from 1945 to 1963 (due to atmospheric nuclear tests), then a fall-off, followed by a second, smaller peak in 1986 from Chernobyl.

I'm sure there are also ways to filter out radioactive trace elements from modern oil if you work hard enough.

Yes, there are. It's sufficiently difficult that it would be unlikely to be economical for the fraudster, though.

When cosmic rays strike the atmosphere, they produce a radioactive isotope of carbon called carbon-14. This carbon gets absorbed from the atmosphere by living things. Once they die, they stop absorbing it. Since it continues to undergo radioactive decay after death, the ratio of carbon-14 to ordinary carbon declines in a predictable way in dead organic matter. This is the basis for radiocarbon dating.

When the great powers started testing nuclear and thermonuclear bombs during the Cold War, they doubled the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the atmosphere. One consequence is the need to avoid contamination when radiocarbon dating. Another odder consequence is that you can determine the age of any person born since the tests began by looking at how much carbon-15 is in various layers of their tooth enamel. You just need to know whether they lived in the northern or southern hemisphere.

Of course, there are usually easier ways to determine the age of a living or dead human. This is just a demonstration of the extent to which the nuclear age is literally imprinted upon all those who live within it.

Sunken battleships are actually essential in making deep space probes, MRIs etc. - this is because they're one of our best sources of surplus pre-Hiroshima steel, and therefore not contaminated with various isotopes capable of buggering up your background noise.

As seen on TV!
This method was mentioned in either "Law & Order" or "Hustle" a couple years ago.

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