UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials

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The UCLA/Getty Program goes “C.S.I.”: The use of a forensic light source for the examination and documentation of archaeological evidence

Conservators are always looking for new techniques that will aid in the examination and documentation of art. The UCLA/Getty Program purchased a forensic light source, the Mini CrimeScope (from Horiba Scientific), to investigate its application in conservation. The CrimeScope is an alternate light source used by crime scene investigators to look for blood stains, latent fingerprints or any other forensic evidence they could utilize for solving crimes. The wavelength of the emitted light in the CrimeScope is controlled by filter wheels that allow material to be examined from ultraviolet to infrared. Instead of solving crimes, students in the conservation program have been using it to solve archaeological mysteries through the study of ancient and ethnographic objects. Artifacts analyzed include pre-Columbian ceramics and polychrome African wooden masks. They have been using the light source to look for evidence to answer questions about materials, technology and manufacture of artifacts, areas of deterioration and signs of previous conservation interventions. Our CrimeScope has also been used by colleagues at the J. Paul Getty Museum to look at the faint remains of a drawing on a white ground lekythos.

The CrimeScope is being employed to compliment other techniques of analysis and provide a first screening during the examination of materials. With the use of a forensic camera and a series of different camera filters the students have also been able to record the fluorescence and luminescence of materials and to see beneath their surface. The results are remarkable and we are currently exploring other potential applications of our CrimeScope to investigate and document different archaeological and ethnographic treasures.

The image above shows how the CrimeScope helped to highlight the decoration on a pre-Columbian vessel that was not as evident when viewed in visible light (left image) or ultraviolet (UV) light (central image). When examined in visible light, the decoration on the vessel is faint and obscured by burial deposits. Examination using a UV light at λexc max=365nm allowed for the decoration to be more visible. However, using the CrimeScope with a filter at λexc max=415nm the decoration was more distinctive and stood out. In particular the "S" shaped design on the upper left side of the vessel, which is slightly visible in the central image under UV, is much clearer in the image taken using the CrimeScope. (Vessel image courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Photo taken by A. North, 1st year conservation student)