Gilded brooches dating back to 16th–17th centuries CE were investigated by means of integrated and complementary analytical techniques such as high spatial resolution field emission scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (FE-SEM+EDS), time of flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and optical microscopy (OM). The results reveal in detail the surface and subsurface morphology and the chemical features of the micrometric decorative Au layer that has been deposited by means of the so-called fire-gilding technique based on the use of an amalgam. Moreover, the results allow to recognise chlorine, sulphur and phosphorous species as the main degradation agents and to identify the corrosion products naturally formed during the long-term interaction with the burial soil constituents. The findings show also that the galvanic coupling between the two dissimilar metals, i.e. Cu and Au, lead to enhancement of corrosion phenomena causing the spalling of the gold thin film and the disfigurement of the object. From a conservation point of view, the results suggest a targeted use of low-toxic inhibitors to hinder the detrimental role of chlorine as possible responsible of future further severe degradation phenomena. In conclusions, the micro and nano-chemical, structural and morphological investigations in a depth range from a few nanometers to micrometers have revealed the complex nature of corroded surface of ancient gold coated artefacts, highlighting some specific aspects related to their peculiar degradation mechanisms thus extending the scientific relevance of the tailored use of complementary and integrated surface and subsurface analytical techniques for the investigation of ancient coated artefacts.
Ingo, G.M., Riccucci, C., Pascucci, M., Messina, E., Giuliani, C., Biocca, P., et al. (2018). Combined use of FE-SEM+EDS, ToF-SIMS, XPS, XRD and OM for the study of ancient gilded artefacts. APPLIED SURFACE SCIENCE, 446, 168-176 [10.1016/j.apsusc.2018.01.278].