Using gemstones’ unique characteristics to uncover ancient trade routes

by American Institute of Physics

“Gemstones such as emerald and peridot have been mined since antiquity,” Surour said. “Sometimes, some gemstones were brought by sailors and traders to their homelands. For example, royal crowns in Europe are decorated with peculiar gemstones that originate from either Africa or Asia. We need to have precise methods to distinguish the source of a gemstone and trace ancient trade routes in order to have correct information about the original place from which it was mined.”

Since ancient times, gemstones have been mined and traded across the globe, sometimes traveling continents from their origin. Gems are geologically defined as minerals celebrated for beauty, strength, and rarity. Their unique elemental composition and atomic orientation act as a fingerprint, enabling researchers to uncover the stones’ past, and with it, historical trade routes.

In American Institute of Physics (AIP) Advances, Khedr and team employed three modern spectroscopic techniques to rapidly analyze gems found in the Arabian-Nubian Shield and compare them with similar gems from around the world. The paper is titled, “Characterization and discrimination of some gem silicate minerals adopting LIBS, FTIR and Raman spectroscopic techniques.”

Using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, and Raman spectroscopy, the authors identified elements that influence gems’ color, differentiated stones found within and outside the region, and distinguished natural from synthetic.

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