Comments of the director of the laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza, Dr. Peter Matthaes, on the address delivered by Mr Ingo Barlovic in Göttingen on 26.10.2008.

I consider the address held by Mr Ingo Barlovic in Göttingen to be substantially positive; positive for people who think with their own head. It is stated in the conclusions, in fact, that 18 results out of 21 were correct, that in the case of one “wrong” result there is, however, a good probability of the reutilization of wood that was already old (in which case the result would be correct) and that only one result was undoubtedly wrong.

I do not wish to enter into the merits of the reliability of other dating methods like dendrochronology or radiocarbon (C14), I would only like to propose that the same blind tests be carried out using these two methods and that the accuracy of the results be compared with those produced by the spectroscopic method. Perhaps this is unnecessary, however, as numerous articles have already been published which testify to a far higher percentage of error, without considering the impossibility of using these methods in a great many cases with regard to African art.

I agree about the lack of purely scientific publications, and in answer to this I wish to point out that for some time now we have been trying to start up a project of collaboration and and research in a university environment. But it is not easy to find an interested and unbiased university which has no interest in continuing to give precedence to the application of other methods, as demonstrated by Dr. Klein’s deplorable article.

It appears, furthermore, that the fact that the analysis costs so little constitutes a fundamental scientific incongruity! The analysis is moderately priced because it is promoted by an organization whose purpose has always been to help all collectors, including those of more limited financial means, to determine the authenticity of the art objects in their possession. In order to increase the credibility of a scientific method, is it necessary to raise the cost of the tests? Well, we are not prepared to abide by this rule!




  • Certainly the method has its limits, and generally speaking what method does not?

  • Certainly it is important for the sample to be taken correctly. In spite of the careful description of the steps to be followed in taking samples correctly, these are often not complied with.
    If we required owners to always bring their artefacts to our laboratories, we could avoid the problem of erroneous sample-taking. However we feel that it is important to give owners the possibility of taking their samples directly so that they may have, in alternative to a dating certificate complete with photo, a spectrum with information on the age of the sample sent.

  • Certainly there are woods for which the method is applicable and others for which it is not.
    On the basis of the measurement of the changes undergone by an object’s wood and of its comparison with samples included in a specific data bank, some wood types are difficult if not impossible to date. This characteristic has always been clearly indicated and there is an (obviously partial) list of woods which can be consulted also on the Internet.

  • Certainly “exceptional” conditions of preservation can alter the result.
    There are situations in which the object was kept or remained in a highly different context  from that typical of the greater part of similar items used as terms of reference. In such cases, which are fortunately not frequent, the results may contain errors which are proportional to the extent of the anomaly in the object’s preservation.