7 September 2005

Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) have developed an innovative method for authenticating ancient Chinese porcelains.

This breakthrough allows researchers to definitively identify fakes from antique porcelains and to determine the origin of archaeological porcelains.

UQ art historian Mr Baoping Li said this methodology would have an enormous impact on valuing and authenticating porcelain items.

“A lot of modern fake porcelains are of an excellent standard and are visually indistinguishable from genuine antiques,” Mr Li said.

“Some ancient porcelain items were sold for millions of dollars in the antiquity market in the past. Our techniques could help to eliminate fakes in the future.”

The researchers have developed an effective and non-destructive fingerprinting and authentication method that involves drilling a very tiny hole in the base of an object to gain a sample of the porcelain.

The sample is then analysed using high-precision multi-element and isotopic facilities in UQ`s Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis. This procedure determines the properties of the clay.

The method enables researchers to trace the properties of the clay to a geographical region of origin, and even to the kiln used for firing the porcelains.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Jian-xin Zhao said the geochemistry and mineralogy of the materials used to make porcelains create a distinctive signature which is impossible to copy.

“Fakes may fool an archaeologist, but will not escape from a geochemist’s eyes,” Associate Professor Zhao said.

“You cannot forge the properties of a 700-year old porcelain piece. We can examine the trace elements of the sample and this allows us to rapidly and precisely determine the chemical and isotopic compositions of the item.”

The research team consists of art historian Mr Baoping Li, and geochemists Associate Professor Jian-xin Zhao, Professor Ken Collerson and Dr Alan Greig. The work has been supported by funding from UQ and the Australian Research Council.

Associate Professor Zhao was recently involved in dating the one-metre tall Homo floresensis (nicknamed "the Hobbit") recently found in Indonesia, a discovery that has revolutionised the global understanding of human evolution.

For more information:

Associate Professor and lead researcher Dr Jian-xin Zhao, Phone: (07) 3346 9754
Senior Communications Officer Tiffany Lippett, Phone: (07) 3365 2049