Forgeries detected through chemistry

Its been a little while since I’ve posted; life caught up with me.

One of the things I have grown to like in the world of chemistry is how to detect deception and forgeries in the most mundane of things. Consider paper documents such as a will, mortgage or contract.

Speckin Forensics is a forensic document expert witness firm skilled in detection of handwriting and inks used in writing.  This firm is retained regularly to review memorabilia items for authenticity.  Words, initials, signature and documents are all subjects of scrutiny by the expert handwriting analyst. A positive identification of authorship or non-authorship can normally be made by a forensic analyst. In order to conduct a proper examination of a signature, the document examiner first needs the original document that contains the questioned signature. If no original is available, it should be noted that there are several methods of forgery that may be detected by examining a photocopy, microfiche, image or fax copy.

Erich Speckin is a forensic document analyst and ink dating specialist.  He has been called in on high profile cases involving the Martha Stewart case where she was charged by the government for improper stock trading and a John Lennon memorabilia forgery case when a man was bilked $191,000.

Art and artifacts are authenticated through chemical analysis

Aside from legal documents, art and artifacts such as Persian silks have been shown to be fake through chemical analysis. Analyzing amino acid signatures reveals forgeries.  (If you’ve been reading “off the hook” regularly, you’ll appreciate seeing the word “signatures” again.).

First reported in CEN (Oct 16, 2017), a weekly scientific journal published by the American Chemistry Society, “chemists have used telltale chemical traces to affirm suspicions of ancient silk forgeries ….In 1924, archaeologists unearthed rare Persian silks from the Buyid period (AD 934-1062) at the burial site of Princess Bibi Shahrbanu in Iran. Shortly afterward, suspected fakes appeared in the antiquities market. Decades later, carbon-14 dating has proven that at least some of the Buyid silks sold after 1930 are forgeries.

It is reported in the same article that a forensic chemist at George Washington University, Mehdi Moni, developed a dating test that studied certain amino acids in the silk, amd one of his graduate students, Christopher Rollman developed a means to determine how forged silks might have been artificially aged. In chemistry-speak “the high levels of D-aspartic acid, D-phenylalanine, and D-tyrosine together indicate artificial aging of silk” says Ernst Kenndler of the University of Vienna.  So there you have it.

As very much a non-chemist, I find it fascinating that chemistry illuminates the truths of our material world be it energy, building materials, foods, polymers, health, travel, animals, space, antiquities, and so on. In doing so, it exposes even more insight into human behavior and psychology which has really been my lifelong interests.

My first encounter with chemistry was in grade school in Natick, Massachusetts with my teacher Ms. White, one of the few grade school teachers I remember; it may have been the fact that her dress ended a few inches above the knee.  She certainly made learning much more interesting than Mrs. Bent, my third grade teacher.

Chemistry is so difficult to understand yet is highly practical in day to day terms. That’s why I look forward to receiving each weekly CEN issue even though for the most part it is way, way over my head.  I do learn about unexpected cause and effect relationships that occur in our physical world which is something I can appreciate. The applications described make for fascinating reading and understanding. I’m a much wiser and more intelligent student of life because of it.


Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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