The BAKOTA Death Metals team: Virag Varga and Anna Szigeti. Together with our mentor, Dr. Viktoria Kiss, we had the opportunity to visit the Budapest Neutron Centre (BNC) this June. What’s going on at the BNC and why is it important for an archaeologist? Stay tuned and we’ll tell you!

But first few brief words about the BNC and their methods, which help us archaeologists out…

The Budapest Research Reactor (BRR) is one of the leading research infrastructures in Hungary and in Central-Europe. The basic scientific activity at BRR is the use of neutron beam lines for neutron scattering investigations. We have more than 50 years of tradition in this field. (http://www.bnc.hu/?q=node/6)

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Visiting the Budapest Neutron Center was a wonderful learning experience for the both of us. It was fascinating to see the ways in which nuclear physics can be applied to help understand the chemical makeup of archaeological materials. When we arrived, we and Dr. Kiss were actually guided through a portion of the nuclear reactor by a physicist who works closely with Dr. Kiss and other archaeologists, Dr. Zsolt Kasztovszky. He showed us the apparatus with which the metals were tested, the NIPS-NORMA station, which conducts PGAA analysis (more on that later), as well as another apparatus called DME, which is a low-level gamma spectroscopy facility. He explained in detail what occurs during the test, and showed us the different components of the machine and their uses. After the tour of the reactor, we were invited to listen in on a discussion between a group of physicists and archaeologists over results gathered from tests conducted on samples by non-destructive methods of analysis. It was interesting to hear the discussion, and left us both a bit in awe. Archaeophysics is incredibly interesting, but it certainly takes a lot of hard work to understand! We both look forward to learning more about this field, and are very grateful for this opportunity.

In the Budapest Neutron Centre there are several different analytical methods for the study of archaeological finds (ceramics, stones, metals): neutron radiography (NR), prompt gamma activation analysis (PGAA) and time-of-flight neutron diffraction (TOF-ND). All of these are based on a neutron beam method, which is a non-destructive process. So the physicists don’t need to take a sample from the archaeological material, they can use the object itself for the analysis.

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The NIPS-NORMA station of the Budapest Neutron Centre

Amazingly, the way that these methods of analysis work, there is no need to worry about radiation. The artifacts tested are left in a lead box for a while, but then they are given back to the institutions that sent them for testing, and they are perfectly safe to handle bare-handed! The NR, PGAA and TOF-ND can inform us about the copper and bronze objects’ raw material and the techniques used in their manufacture. This is the main draw for our team, because it is necessary to know these properties of the bronze finds (like the bracelet below) from Bks 103 for our metals research project.

Bronze bracelet from Bekes 103

By having some of the bronze artifacts recovered from the Bekes 103 cemetery examined at the BNC, we will be able to learn more about the composition of the bronzes, or what type of copper alloys they are. We may also have more information about where the original metals came from. Though our paths have parted for the time being, as Virag will be working with copper artifacts, and Anna will continue with the bronze finds. But we’ll tell you more about this later!

If you would like to know more about the Neutron Centre and neutron-based methods of artifact analysis, visit the BNCs official website: http://www.bnc.hu/, or the following article:

Kiss et al. Non-destructive analyses of bronze artefacts from Bronze Age Hungary using neutron-based methods. J. Anal. At. Spectrom. 2015. 30. 685-693.