Universiteit Leiden

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Refining techniques for radiocarbon dating small archaeological bone samples

Direct radiocarbon dating of human remains is crucial for the accurate interpretation of prehistory. Yet given the scarcity of prehistoric human remains, direct dating is often too destructive for important fossils. The reduction of sample size necessary for dating bone is therefore of great interest to archaeologists, but the confounding factors of molecular preservation and contamination present great challenges to the radiocarbon dating community.

H.K. Fewlass
24 March 2020
The publication in Open Access

This dissertation explores the reduction of sample size for radiocarbon dating Palaeolithic bone at the pretreatment and 14C measurement stages. Methodological tests were carried out on a selection of archaeological bones spanning the breadth of the radiocarbon method at varying levels of preservation. Our standard pretreatment protocol for ~500 mg bone was refined for <100 mg bone. Collagen extracted from solid pieces of bone (rather than powdered bone) and a reduced duration of the gelatinisation stage improved collagen yields for small samples. The quality of the extracted collagen was evaluated based on the yield, elemental and stable isotopic values and the obtained 14C measurements.

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