This instrument is used for determining the elemental composition of a material; it is non-destructive, non-invasive and portable.

Keymaster Tracer III-V and Bruker Trace Vi

Research Associate Caitlin using the Tracer III-V pXRF in a nose-up position

We have two different models of pXRF: the Keymaster Tracer III-V and the newer Bruker Trace Vi.  Both can be used to identify what elements are present in a sample through exciting the object with x-rays and reading the energy released as the atoms in the object relax.  When atoms relax to a less energetic state, they release the energy as fluorescence characteristic to their particular element.  The instrument measures the fluorescence at each wavelength, making it possible to identify which elements are present in the object and their relative proportions.  The major differences between our two pXRF units are the instrument and software interfaces.

Dr. Cooper analyzing artifacts with pXRF in a nose-down configuration.

pXRF analysis is a very powerful tool in conservation because it is non-invasive and non-destructive—the instrument can be taken to the object, and it is not required that samples be taken.  It can be used to quickly identify the presence/absence of heavy metal pesticides on objects in collections or do a more detailed elemental analysis of the elements present in a sample.  There are also options for different calibration programs for the instrument, such as Precious Metals, or Ancient Coppers, which can be used to determine the composition some materials more specifically, such as the karats of gold in a piece of jewelry.

pXRF data from a chert biface.


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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119