Essay on new technology wins Museum of Antiquities prize

Published 17 May 2010

fluoroJillian Huntley, who is exploring the use of new X-ray technology in analysing the composition of ochre pigments used on ancient art and artefacts, has won a prize at the University of New England for an essay on her work.

The Charles Ede Essay Prize is an annual prize for an essay by a student at UNE about – or inspired by – exhibits in UNE’s Museum of Antiquities. Ms Huntley’s essay discusses the potential of X-ray fluorescence spectrometry for examining pigments decorating objects in the museum.

Archaeology & Palaeoanthropology at UNE acquired a portable Bruker X-ray fluorescence (PXRF) instrument (pictured here) at the end of 2008. The instrument – which has applications in many fields of research – enables archaeologists to analyse the elemental composition of ancient artefacts without destroying the material being examined.

Ms Huntley’s essay has close links with the doctoral research she is undertaking as part of a multidisciplinary team examining the rock art of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This major project, funded by the Australian Research Council and led by Mike Morwood (a Visiting Professor at UNE) and UNE’s Dr June Ross, is titled “Change and continuity: archaeology and art in the North Kimberley, North-west Australia”.

“The research program aims to explain specific changes in the human occupation of the region in relation to climate change, internal social processes, outside contact, and other possible factors,” Ms Huntley said. “It involves the excavation of selected sites, the examination and close description of rock art sites, the application of absolute dating techniques, archaeometric analysis of rock art and pigments, the collection of ethnographic information about the sites, and the development of an electronic archive of recorded sites.”

“My archaeometric work with the pigments of the Kimberley will build on previous work I’ve done on the rock art of the Sydney Basin,” she explained. “I’m excited to be among the first archaeologists in the country to explore the possibilities of PXRF, which enables a wholly non-destructive geochemical analysis that may unlock secrets encoded in the pigments used to create Kimberley rock art millennia ago.”

The Ede Prize, awarded annually by the UNE Museum of Antiquities Committee, is donated by the London-based antiquities dealer James Ede in honour of his father Charles Ede, who began the firm’s long association with the museum. Comprising both cash and a book prize, it has a total value of $500.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show Jillian Huntley demonstrating the use of the PXRF instrument.