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Ancient and historic steel in Japan, India and Europe, a non-invasive comparative study using thermal neutron diffraction

, : Ancient and historic steel in Japan, India and Europe, a non-invasive comparative study using thermal neutron diffraction. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 400(5): 1493-1500

The production and refinement of steel has followed very different paths in different parts of the Eurasian continent. In aiming to characterize the similarities and differences between various smelting and smithing methods, we have analysed steel samples from four different areas and historic periods: the Kotō Age in Japan (twelfth-sixteenth century), the Moghul Empire in India (seventeenth-nineteenth century), the Ottoman Turkish Empire (seventeenth century) and the late Middle Ages (fifteenth century) in Italy. The best quality steel was employed for forging arms and armour of high quality, so that we have selected samples from Japan, India, the Middle East and Italy belonging to such a category. Traditional methods, such as metallography, used to characterize different steels in terms of their carbon contents, microconstituents and slag inclusions, entailed an invasive approach. Since many of the selected artefacts are in a very good state of conservation, a different and non-invasive approach was desirable. To this aim, we have used time of flight neutron diffraction on the Italian Neutron Experimental Station diffractometer, located at the pulsed neutron source ISIS in the United Kingdom. By this technique, we were able to quantify the phase distribution of the metal phases, the slag inclusion content, and the oxidation state of the samples, both as average concentration on the whole artefact and in selected gauge volumes. The results of the present investigation offer an interesting picture of the steel metallurgy in different areas of the world.


PMID: 21400072

DOI: 10.1007/s00216-011-4854-1

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