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Not The Original

Desy scientist detect forgery in state museum. Bronze Age ax turns out to be a 19th century replica.

For decades, it has been considered as an archaeological treasure – an ensemble of Bronze Age axes, which was allegedly discovered in the 19th century in a wet meadow in Germany’s most northern state, Schleswig-Holstein. But when archaeologists took one of the pieces and placed it under the microscope an the intense X-ray of a particle accelerator at DESY, he result shocked the experts: the ax displayed at the museum turned out to be counterfeit, as most of the objects of the find.

X-Rays Reveal Patchwork

The result shows how valuable physical measurement methods are for archeology – even if the alleged value of a find may fall rapidly in regard to the results. Collaboration between Desy and the museum experts started a coupl e of years ago with the analysis of a Bronze Age ax at Desy’s double-ring store DORIS. There, the “ax of Ahneby” with a weight of 700 grams had been confirmed as a 4,000 years old cult object. “When we scanned the ax, we noticed that the ax’s upper side had originally been covered with many holes”, says Mechtild Freudenberg from the Archaeological State Museum. These so-called voids may have originated when casting the bronze. To smooth the blade, the Bronze Age craftsmen hammered tin pearls into the voids and thus created a prehistoric patchwork, which was only visible with the high-intensity X-ray radiation from DORIS.

21 Counterfeits Revealed

Following this success, DESY physicist Leif Glaser and his team started to examine other axes with the non-destructive method. By doing so, they only had to closely examine the traces of work on the blade. But one of the tools displayed at the museum left the experts puzzled, as measured values showed discrepancies. “When we analyzed the chemical composition of the blade with our w x-ray, a suspicion came to us”, says Freudenberg. “The ax clearly contained clearly too much iron and tin. So we wondered if, perhaps, the tool did not date back to the Bronze Age. Further analysis showed that the clearly visible imprints of the hammer blows were limited to the surface. Inside the material, however, the crystal structure had not been changed by welding. Freudenberg’s conclusion: “First, we did not want to believe it, but had to accept: the ax had been a fake!”

Further Co-Operations Planed

The revelation was quite an unpleasant surprise for the expert, as the ax had been received from supposedly reliable sources. In 1864, the renowned private collector Johann Detlef Marxen had bequeathed to the the state museum at Schleswig – along with 21 other items that were allegedly discovered in the same Bonze age site, a wet meadow near Kappeln. In addition to 15 axes, the fund had also included a chisel and jewellery. When the team scanned the other artifacts, the result was sobering: except for a thin, 25 centimeters long dress pin, all items turned out to be fake: 21 artifacts from the 19th century, unmasked by DESY scientists.

The archaeologists from Schleswig and the Desy physicists from Hamburg want to continue to continue their co-operation – an interdisciplinary collaboration that could be good for another detective stories of the past

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