chapter  1
19 Pages

Radiography: theory

ByAndrew Middleton, Janet Lang

The cartoon reproduced as Figure 1.1 was published in the magazine Life, within a few months of Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays. It is a typical manifestation of the excitement and public interest which

his work provoked. However imperfectly, the public grasped that Röntgen had discovered a new way of ‘looking’ not just at objects but also through them. Of course, everyone knew that light passed through transparent and semi-transparent materials such as glass and paper; even a human hand gave a blood red

glow when held up to a strong light, but no details could be seen. Röntgen’s first published pictures showed a hand, with the bones, flesh and a ring on one of the fingers, all clearly visible (Röntgen 1896). This was a totally new phenomenon. Within months, a beam of X-rays had been used to show up lead pellets accidentally shot into a New York lawyer’s hand. The medical use of X-rays was launched. Archaeological applications also followed swiftly on Röntgen’s discovery: a paper published by Culin in 1898 describes work carried out by Dr Charles Leonard to produce radiographs of a Peruvian mummy and other artefacts from the University of Pennsylvania Museum (see Chapter 7).