On 09 June 2017 at 15:30

The View of Science on the terracotta objects of Africa, Asia and South America: antiquity test and imaging

Mrs Céline Roque & Mr Emmanuel Vartanian

Until the early 2000’s, the contribution of science to the authentication of terracotta objects was based almost exclusively on antiquity testing using thermoluminescence. The aim was to determine when the material had been heated at a temperature higher than 500°C, corresponding to the moment when the object had been shaped. This approach has detected many fakes, imitating old styles but made in the second half of the 20th century. Case studies of production from South America, Africa and Asia illustrate the experimental procedure used, from sampling to interpretation of thermoluminescence curves.


Today, forgers’ techniques have been perfected in order to circumvent the scientific analyses. The aim is to make objects from recycled old terracotta fragments. In this case, the thermoluminescence test confirms the antiquity of the last firing of the material, but it is no longer sufficient to attest the authenticity of the object. This is why the observation of its internal structure has become an indispensable complementary approach.


Previously dedicated to highlight the state of conservation for the works of art, and the mapping of restoration areas, scientific imaging (X-ray, CT-scan) contributes today to reveal forgers’ techniques. It can be seen that they differ according to the production concerned. Indeed, African-style false objects are often made from an old terracotta core on which the exterior reliefs are modeled with dried clay, while objects imitating Asian styles are more often assemblages of fragments of reworked ancient fired bricks. Examples illustrate these fraudulent manufacturing methods.


Finally, the view of science on terracotta objects must evolve at the same time as the improvement of forgers’ techniques. This means adopting a rigorous and critical approach on a case-by-case basis and keeping alert on current practices, in consultation with the Art Market players.



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On 09 June 2017 at 15:30

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Mrs Céline Roque & Mr Emmanuel Vartanian

 Mr Emmanuel Vartanian ,Physician, PhD in Sciences applied to Ancient Materials


Mrs Céline Roque, Art Historian, PhD in Sciences applied to Ancient Materials

After PhD studies dedicated to the analysis and the dating of ancient materials, Mr Vartanian and Mrs Roque joined the ASA GmbH laboratory specialized in the scientific expertise of works of art. Then they took part in the creation and development of CIRAM Sarl, as co-manager and researcher. In 2012, they founded the SAS Re.S.Artes, which offers services for the scientific analysis of works of Art in order to answer questions about authentication but also knowledge of techniques and diagnosis of objects state. With nearly 20 years of experience in scientific imaging, dating and characterization of materials, they work closely with Art Market actors, museum, curators and restorers. Scientific rigor and methodological innovation guide their daily work.