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Discrimination of the Hard Keratins Animal Horn and Chelonian Shell Using Attenuated Total Reflection- Infrared Spectroscopy

Volume 66, Number 5 (May 2012) Page 606-608


The ability to discriminate between objects manufactured from animal horn and chelonian (turtle, tortoise, or terrapin) shell is important from a cultural and archeological perspective such that it may allow conservators to determine the appropriate treatment and long-term care solution. It would also aid curators in identifying and cataloging items manufactured from these materials. Discrimination and classification is also a valuable tool for those involved in tracking the illegal trade in restricted materials of this nature. Attenuated total reflection infrared (ATR-IR) spectroscopy, using a single reflection diamond internal reflection element (IRE), coupled with discrimination analysis was used to analyze a total of thirty-nine samples (29 calibration samples, 10 validation samples). A discrimination analysis model was constructed using Mahalanobis distances to classify spectra into one of two classes. The model was then subsequently used to successfully classify all validation samples and correctly identify them as animal horn or chelonian shell based on second-derivative spectra of the amide I and II regions. This technique requires minimal to no sample preparation and may be used to nondestructively identify very small samples successfully without performing detailed secondary structural curve-fitting routines. This model should be a valuable resource to museums, conservators, and wildlife management programs for rapidly and reliably discriminating between animal horn and chelonian shell.

Index Headings: Infrared spectroscopy; Keratin discrimination; Mahalanobis distances; Artifact identification; Forensics.