The use of a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer in the reconstitution of dinosaur fossils

Silva, T., Costa F., Fernandes J., Calvo R., & Mateus O. (2016).  The use of a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer in the reconstitution of dinosaur fossils. , 7: European Conference on X-Ray Spectrometry (EXRS)


Portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometers (p-XRF) have been used in many fields of application/studies like art, archaeology, heavy metals in soil, rocks and ores characterization, and have been a powerful tool for a rapid non-destructive in-situ analysis, without any sample preparation required. This approach was applied in the present case, to distinguish the origin of the fossil bones of two dinosaur specimens from different localities that were accidentally put together in the museum a few years ago. Fossil bones with sedimentary matrix associated were stored together until today in the collection of Geological Museum (Lisbon) and regarded as one single specimen. One set of bones is part of the holotype MG 5787 of the ankylosaur Dracopelta zbyszweskii, which was discovered at Praia do Sul, and described in 1980, while the other, is an undescribed half skeleton of dacentrurine stegosaur, unearthed in the 1960’s at Atouguia da Baleia, near Peniche (both in the coast of central Portugal, distanced about 100 km from each other). Since both specimens are highly valuable for paleontology, a study was developed with the aim of separating and reconstituting the two specimens. The handheld p-XRF (Genius 9000+7000 from Skyray Instrument) was directly used in the sedimentary matrix when it was separated from the bone, and the measure of the chemical content was performed in the intermediate layer between the surface and the bone, to avoid contaminations. Although the light elements could not be attained, because the analyzer is not equipped with the option of gas charging system, the spectra obtained showed differences mainly in the ratio K/Ca, allowing distinguishing the provenance of the bones (Atouguia or Praia do Sul). These results were compared with chemical analysis obtained with XRF laboratorial equipment and complemented by the mineralogical study through X-ray diffraction (XRD) of the sediments where the bones fossilized. The difference observed in the mineralogical constitution of the sedimentary matrix from the two localities (mainly quartz, calcite, feldspars and micas with variable content) explains the variation in the values found for the ratio K/Ca (<0.5 for Atouguia and >>1 for Praia do Sul). The data obtained will be presented and discussed focusing on the importance of using a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer applied to the reconstitution of dinosaur fossils that proved to be very useful in the present case.


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