Beaming with Joy
USC College's Lynn Swartz Dodd of archaeology receives her second award to use the synchrotron beam at Argonne National Laboratory.
For the second consecutive year, archaeologist Lynn Swartz Dodd of USC College has won "beam time," enabling her and her students to conduct research on ancient artifacts using the nation's most powerful X-ray.
"The items we're researching are the oldest ever to be analyzed at Argonne at such a high setting," Dodd said of the bronze axes, swords and bronze-gold figurines they X-rayed in July 2009, which date back to King Tut’s time around 1343 B.C. in the late Bronze Age. “They require the highest level beam setting to penetrate through the thick metal and view inside their interior.”
For their second visit, Dodd and her students will X-ray Iron Age and Persian period artifacts, ranging in age from 1000 to 300 B.C.
The award, worth about $130,000 in time, was granted by the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the synchrotron beam at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, 30 miles southwest of Chicago. The lab reserves blocks of time to the public so that researchers like Dodd can use the X-ray for projects.
“This is a big deal for us,” said Dodd, a lecturer in religion and curator of the College’s Archaeology Research Center. “We’ll be able to ask the questions and hopefully find the answers we couldn’t get before.”
In mid-February, Dodd and two College undergraduates will travel to the laboratory and work around the clock to X-ray bronze arrowheads and projectile points discovered at Tell al-Judaidah, two other sites in Turkey and one in Israel. One of the Turkey sites and the Israel site were once centers of Assyrian imperial rule. An additional site in Turkey was later ruled by Persians. Dodd’s group will compare arrowheads from the Persian site to arrowheads from a Persian royal city in Iran. The objects are on loan from the museum at The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
The unparalleled beam enables researchers to examine precious objects without having to cut them into pieces.
“These artifacts are irreplaceable,” Dodd said. “It’s not as if you can go out and make another Persian arrowhead.”
The X-ray analyses will show the makeup of the artifacts — what they were made from and how — which may reveal the timeline of creation and technological advancement in specific geographical areas.
The project is a collaboration with the University of Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Toronto, and Northern Illinois University.
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