Production of reference alloys for the conservation of archaeological silver-based artifacts

Research paper by M. P. Casaletto, G. M. Ingo, C. Riccucci, F. Faraldi

Indexed on: 22 Apr '10Published on: 22 Apr '10Published in: Applied Physics A


In the framework of the EC PROMET project, the chemical composition and metallurgical features of a large number of archaeological artifacts were investigated by different analytical surface and bulk techniques, such as Optical Microscopy (OM), Scanning Electron Microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-ray micro-analysis (SEM-EDS), X-ray Diffraction (XRD) and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS). The study of the corrosion products grown on the archaeological Ag-based artifacts revealed a quite ubiquitous and nearly constant presence of chlorine from the soil as the main corroding agent, mainly producing chlorargyrite (AgCl). Results of this extensive chemical, physical and metallurgical characterization were used to produce modern reference Ag-based alloys with a chemical composition and micro-chemical structure similar to that of ancient alloys. Furthermore, these reference Ag-based alloys were submitted to an accelerated degradation method in order to produce corroded samples to be used as sacrificial materials for testing corrosion inhibiting products. The production of artificial “patinas” and corrosion layers was made by a chemical and soil-induced degradation procedure. The comparison of the micro-chemical structures of natural and artificial corrosion layers shows that the selected degradation method produces “patinas” resembling those grown on archaeological artifacts from a chemical, structural and micro-morphological point of view.