Think back to the last time you visited an art gallery or museum. As you wandered through the halls and peered at the various paintings and artifacts, did you ever question the information provided on the labels or in the guidebook? Did you wonder whether that Titian really is a Titian and not a fake? Did you question whether that vase had been correctly attributed to the Ming dynasty?According to Richard Newman, head of scientific research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, every museum contains artifacts that are not what they appear to be. “There are a lot of objects on display at the moment whose attributions are a little bit shaky,” he says. “There are some about which there are serious questions of authenticity and there are others we think are genuine but actually might be fakes.” Materials characterization techniques are central to identifying these fakes and to answering many other questions that the museum's curators may have about artifacts.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)01140-9