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New fingerprinting for art authentication

A new technique to identify objects of art will be foolproof, according to a University of Southampton researcher.

FING-ART-PRINT, a 2.5-year project funded by the European Commission, undertaken by a consortium of European partners, aims to provide a means of uniquely identifying art and cultural objects and will protect against illegal trafficking of cultural heritage.

According to Dr. Kirk Martinez at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS), such a non-contact system has never been developed in this way before. ‘We are developing a system which is very much foolproof’, he said.

The system is based on the owner of the work selecting, for example, one square centimetre. The roughness/texture and colour of that square centimetre are then measured on a micrometer scale, and put into a database. Objects and collections which are fingerprinted can then be easily identified and traced when on loan or in transport.

‘The advantage of this system is that it replaces physical marking systems and can be done in any location’, said Dr Martinez. ‘For example, it can be used at airports to do spot checks.’

At the moment the researchers are inviting potential users to provide objects for fingerprinting as part of an 18-month trial which will be run before the system is widely available.

The partners in FING-ART-PRINT are: the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN - coordinator), Nanofocus AG, Germany, ELDIM S.A, France, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France, ‘Ormylia’ Art Diagnosis Centre, Greece and the University of Southampton.

Helene Murphy | alfa
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