On June 7, India got back some treasured pieces of its past when, in a symbolic gesture, the US returned more than 200 cultural artifacts worth millions of dollars stolen from India to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his three-day visit.

While stories of how these artifacts – that include statues, bronze sculptures and terracotta coins – came to be stolen in the first place is fascinating enough, such treasure-troves of our past also throw up interesting challenges and questions for scientists, conservationists and historians.

For instance – how do you establish and verify the origin of a historical artifact? How do you trace it back to the precise era from which it came? And crucially, how do you tell real ones from fakes?

It was precisely such a conundrum that nuclear scientist Dr Baldev Raj first confronted a few decades ago, when the curator of the Government Musuem in Madras approached him with a problem – bronze idols dating back to the Chola period that had been stolen were being returned or retrieved, but there was no way to identify if they were real.

As it turns out, scientists can trace fingerprints of the idol to give answer such questions and give us crucial clues to our heritage.

This episode of The Intersection tells us more about Dr Raj’s unique solution and talks about the techniques that can be used for fingerprinting such idols so that we can dig a little deeper into our history.

This is the latest episode of The Intersection, a fortnightly podcast on Audiomatic. For more such podcasts, visit audiomatic.in.