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Indonesian Nuclear Scientists Support Archaeologists to Preserve Cultural Heritage

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The IAEA helps its Member States to use nuclear science and technology to characterize and preserve artifacts, and thereby preserve an important part of a country’s cultural heritage. (Photo: G.C. Reyes/IAEA)

Indonesia’s National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the country’s National Archaeology Research Centre on 10 February to support the preservation of culturally-valuable artefacts using radiation technology. The agreement, signed on the margins of an IAEA technical cooperation project coordination meeting, aims to strengthen collaboration between the country’s radiation experts and the staff of museums, art galleries and other authorities responsible for items of cultural value. It is one of the most recent achievements of the project[1], which is helping countries across Asia and the Pacific to use nuclear technology in the characterization, preservation and restoration of cultural heritage products.

The meeting, from 10 to 14 February in Bali, brought together 32 delegates from 20 Member States in the region to review the implementation of activities since the project’s launch in 2018. Delegates also discussed the coordination of capacity building efforts, and the promotion of greater cooperation with the archaeology and conservation sector. The project supports ongoing efforts to enhance the protection of cultural heritage artifacts in the Asia and Pacific region.

As with the wheel, codified laws and urban conurbations, the earliest examples of written literature appear to have originated in Asia. These documents, and other similarly treasured artifacts, represent a historical legacy which enriches humanity today, and which must be preserved for the benefit of future generations. The IAEA helps countries to use nuclear science and technology to examine, preserve and, if necessary, restore such relics.

Towards preserving artefacts in Asia and the Pacific

The meeting was opened with the signing of an MOU between the BATAN’s Centre for Isotopes and Radiation Application (CIRA) and the National Archaeology Research Centre. (Photo: E. Triastari/BATAN)

“There is a need to increase the awareness and implementation of nuclear methods for the preservation of cultural heritage among participating countries in Asia and the Pacific,” said Totti Tjiptosumirat, the Head of BATAN’s Centre for Isotopes and Radiation Application. “Through this meeting, and others like it, I hope people become more aware that nuclear technology is very closely related with their everyday lives.”

The five-day meeting allowed the participants to discuss strategies for the development of new capacities required for the use of nuclear techniques in cultural heritage preservation. Presentations identified existing national capacities in radiation technology and clarified obstacles preventing or delaying developments in this field, and the meeting participants subsequently engaged in in-depth discussions to identify opportunities for cooperation, knowledge sharing and regional training.

“[After taking part in this project], museum staff understood how the technique works and the benefits they stand to gain,” said Sasiphan Khaweerat, a Senior Nuclear Scientist of the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology. “Moreover, during training course, they discovered that using chemical and physical treatment methods might actually harm the artefacts they work with.”

“The characterization of cultural heritage products using nuclear techniques is the good solution in verifying the provenance and ensuring the authenticity of artefacts,” said Hishamuddin Husain, a Senior Researcher working in the Materials Technology Group of the Malaysian Nuclear Agency. “These techniques are non-destructive, fast and accurate, allowing museums to quickly and easily determine the legitimacy of artifacts before finalizing a purchase with antique dealers, for example.”

Centrally-located along ancient trading routes, Indonesia’s cultural heritage is rich with examples of a long interaction between original indigenous customs and regional influences. (Photo: G.C. Reyes/IAEA)

The meeting concluded with the development and endorsement of a comprehensive workplan for the project, which will be carried out in 2020 and 2021.The IAEA will procure reference materials for analysis of metal objects and carbon dating on behalf of the participating countries, and will organize a series of scientific visits to museums and institutions, located both in Europe and in Asia and the Pacific, which already deploy nuclear technologies to preserve and characterize fine art and historical relics.

In addition, a hands-on training course will be held in Grenoble, France in November 2020 to demonstrate how counterparts in the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission’s (CEA) ARC-Nucléart laboratory use radio-polymerization techniques for the consolidation of wooden artifacts, including Gallo-Roman barges and wooden iconostases.

[1] RAS1021, ‘Harnessing Nuclear Science and Technology for the Preservation and Conservation of Cultural Heritage’

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