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Direct dating of archaeological pottery by compound-specific 14C analysis of preserved lipids

Direct dating of archaeological pottery by compound-specific 14C analysis of preserved lipids

Analytical Chemistry 75(19): 5037-5045

ISSN/ISBN: 0003-2700

PMID: 14708776

DOI: 10.1021/ac020743y

A methodology is described demonstrating the utility of the compound-specific 14C technique as a direct means of dating archaeological pottery. The method uses automated preparative capillary gas chromatography employing wide-bore capillary columns to isolate individual compounds from lipid extracts of archaeological potsherds in high purity (>95%) and amounts (>200 microg) sufficient for radiocarbon dating using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). A protocol was developed and tested on n-alkanes and n-carboxylic acids possessing a broad range of 14C ages. Analytical blanks and controls allowed background 14C measurements to be assessed and potential sources of errors to be detected, i.e., contamination with modern or dead 14C, isotopic fraction effects, etc. A "Russian doll" method was developed to transfer isolated target compounds onto tin powder/capsules prior to combustion and AMS analyses. The major advantage of the compound-specific technique is that 14C dates obtained for individual compounds can be directly linked to the commodities processed in the vessels during their use, e.g., animal fats. The compound-specific 14C dating protocol was validated on a suite of ancient pottery whose predicted ages spanned a 5000-year date range. Initial results indicate that meaningful correlations can be obtained between the predicted date of pottery and that of the preserved lipids. These findings constitute an important step forward to the direct dating of archaeological pottery.

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