Application of radiocarbon dating

The laboratory has over 30 years of experience in the application of radiocarbon dating and associated research and is happy to help with all aspects of the radiocarbon dating process from project design to calibration and statistical analysis.This enables the best use to be made of the radiocarbon technique.Degradation of the protein fraction can also occur in hot, arid conditions, without actual burning; then the degraded components can be washed away by groundwater.

Not all material can be dated by this method; only samples containing organic matter can be tested: the date found will be the date of death of the plants or animals from which the sample originally came.Samples for dating need to be converted into a form suitable for measuring the content; this can mean conversion to gaseous, liquid, or solid form, depending on the measurement technique to be used.The calcium carbonate was then converted back to again, dried, and converted to carbon by passing it over heated magnesium.Hydrochloric acid was added to the resulting mixture of magnesium, magnesium oxide and carbon, and after repeated boiling, filtering, and washing with distilled water, the carbon was ground with a mortar and pestle and a half gram sample taken, weighed, and combusted.Removing the carbonates also destroys the calcium hydroxyapatite, and so it is usual to date bone using the remaining protein fraction after washing away the calcium hydroxyapatite and contaminating carbonates. Collagen is sometimes degraded, in which case it may be necessary to separate the proteins into individual amino acids and measure their respective ratios and activity.

It is possible to detect if there has been any degradation of the sample by comparing the relative volume of each amino acid with the known profile for bone.For burnt bone, testability depends on the conditions under which the bone was burnt.The proteins in burnt bone are usually destroyed, which means that after acid treatment, nothing testable will be left of the bone.In all cases we encourage a collaborative approach to dating projects where we work together with users of the facility to answer the relevant research questions.In particular ORAU routinely undertakes: ORAU is happy to perform dating analyses for archaeologists; environmental scientists, biologists or anyone else interested in determining the radiocarbon content of material.Before this can be done, however, the sample must be treated to remove any contamination and any unwanted constituents.