Using light to describe the ancient world

Chemical mapping has revealed the remnants of feathers preserved in this specimen of Archaeopteryx

Synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence has given the world more than just an impressive acronym. In fact, SRS-XRF has been used to describe hidden feather traces and bone chemistry in a specimen of Archaeopteryx. SRS-XRF is a chemical mapping technique that applies the basic approach of XRF (see X-ray fluorescence below) to points spaced 100 μm apart, allowing elemental maps to be made at a staggering rate of one square centimetre every 30 seconds. Uwe Bergmann and colleages reported their SRS-XRF maps of Archaeopteryx last year, where they show a phosphorus distribution that picks out all of the bone, as well as shafts of feathers. Zinc was shown almost exclusively associated with the bone, and may reflect the original diet of Archaeopteryx. This study is a great step forward in visualising otherwise unseen fossil evidence.

Bergmann U, Morton RW, Manning PL, Sellers WI, Farrar S, Huntley KG, Wogelius RA, Larson P. 2010. Archaeopteryx feathers and bone chemistry fully revealed via synchrotron imaging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1001569107

Image from Wikipedia

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