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Using a Silica Substrate to Monitor the Effectiveness of Radiocarbon Pretreatment

M W Dee, F Brock, A D Bowles, C Bronk Ramsey


The objective of radiocarbon pretreatment is to eliminate any contaminant carbon from the sample material. Solvent washes and acid-base-acid (ABA) procedures are widely used for this purpose. However, quantitatively analyzing their effectiveness is surprisingly problematic, as it often requires large numbers of 14C measurements or high-precision compositional analysis. The technique presented here involves monitoring the impact of different forms of contamination by measuring their adherence to a non-carbonaceous substrate called Chromosorb®. Firstly, the substrate was used in place of a 14C sample in order to monitor the accrual of carbon contamination during a standard solvent wash and ABA pretreatment. This produced a contamination profile against which modifications to the pretreatment procedure could be compared. Secondly, stocks were prepared of Chromosorb that had been infused with environmental contaminants and with common glues, adhesives, and preservatives. By monitoring the elimination of carbon from these stocks, the effectiveness of different pretreatment procedures could be evaluated and the most problematic of the contaminants for 14C dating could be identified.

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