Loughborough University
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Lowering levels of heritage crime via novel chemical procedures

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posted on 2018-02-27, 16:20 authored by Richard S. Wilson
The work reported here focused on developing innovative ways of addressing heritage crime, and by doing so, protecting and preserving the historical assets found nationwide. The interdisciplinary focus, linking chemistry and criminology was imperative, and this connection is a novel way in which the issue of heritage crime can be addressed. A survey was completed noting the key issues faced, and helped develop and report an understanding of the general attitudes towards heritage sites across the country. The results obtained here facilitated the chemistry research from this point, channelling the investigations in the appropriate pathway, as well as justifying the work done from that point onwards. A large focus during the course of the research was that of metal theft. With this in mind, there were subsequent attempts to develop a novel and non-invasive technique, which could help lower levels of such crime at heritage sites. Early work concentrated on detecting trace levels of metals commonly found at heritage sites such as copper and lead, and their interaction with the surface of the skin. The metals were shown to form characteristically coloured complexes when reacting with components of the skin itself, thus confirming an individuals recent contact with the relevant metal. This work progressed further via analysis of the metal itself post contact with a human finger. Again, remaining non-invasive was imperative, and a technique focusing on the development of fingerprints from the surface of copper and its alloys, via utilization of gelatine lifters, was studied extensively. Optimizing this technique via a study on the effects of the environment a piece of metal was stored in prior to development via rubeanic acid solution further developed the understanding of this method. Desiccation and the resultant reduction in humidity proved to be effective in enhancing the quality of fingerprint produced. This also had potential impact outside of the heritage crime focus, with fingerprint development from surfaces such as bullet casings being a particularly noteworthy example. Studies relating to why a change in environment enhanced the quality of fingerprint developed were conducted, with several fingermark constituents being shown to react with rubeanate solution. 2 Because of high theft levels highlighted within the survey, efforts were made to produce information regarding stone samples found in a range of different environments. Laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) was used as a method of non-invasively analysing loose material from several gravestones removed via the gelatine lifters. As well as producing information unique to each piece of stone analysed, this also highlighted a novel use of the analytical equipment itself.


Loughborough University.



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  • Chemistry


© Richard S. Wilson

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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