A group of researchers has found a way to determine the authenticity of famous paintings using radiocarbon dating, The New York Times reports.
In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from Switzerland, Germany and the U.S. were able to identify the date of a painting’s creation employing radiocarbon dating using just a tiny amount of paint.
The method, developed in the 1940s, can date organic materials by measuring their content of carbon-14, a chemical element found in the atoms of all organic matter.
Researchers studied a piece by Robert Trotter, a well-known art forger who conducted 52 sales of his fakes and forgeries from 1981 to 1988.
Trotter claimed his painting was done in 1886, but the number of carbon-14 isotopes in his work was high – the chemical element is known to have dramatically increased in the atoms of all living things born after the above-ground nuclear bomb tests between 1955 and 1963.
“This bomb peak is really a unique signature,” Laura Hendriks, a doctoral candidate at E.T.H. Zurich in Switzerland and the lead author of the study, told the Times. “It can be used in so many different fields, it’s just unbelievable, although it’s not a good thing.”