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Using X-ray technology to clear up an archeological secret

Researchers at EPFL have spent months capturing 3D images of a Roman-era chainmail shirt using a computed tomography (CT) scanner. The EPFL researchers, working with archeologists of Vaud Canton, then came up with a full inventory of items held within the chainmail shirt, which dates back more than 2,000. Using a 3D printer, they reproduced the items while leaving the fragile shirt completely intact. The findings were unveiled in a special exhibition at the Cantonal Museum of Archeology and History. “The complex shape of the chainmail shirt made the whole process technically challenging,” adds Turberg. “What’s more, iron has a high X-ray attenuation coefficient and generates unwanted artefacts. In addition to the purely scientific aspect, working on the fragment gave us a chance to hone our 3D imaging expertise. What we learned will serve us well in the future, allowing us to scan complex materials containing metallic elements”, says Pascal Turberg, who leads the ENAC Interdisciplinary Platform for X-ray micro-tomography (PIXE) at EPFL.