The University of Arizona

Behavioral Variability in ABA Chemical Pretreatment Close to the 14C Age Limit

Guaciara M Santos, Kaelyn Ormsby


The acid-base-acid (ABA) procedure is a common chemical pretreatment used on most organic matter samples. Although this pretreatment is straightforward, there is no consensus among labs about the optimum strength of the chemicals, or even the temperature, to be used for digestions. Comparisons between 14C results obtained by samples undergoing ABA against other wet oxidations, such as acid-base oxidation followed by stepped-combustion (ABOX-SC) or α-cellulose on wood, have sometimes suggested that ABA does not always remove all contaminating carbon. In addition, if not all ABA protocols are the same, could it be said that one procedure is better than others or comparable to wet-oxidation pretreatments, if rigorously applied? To determine whether 14C-free samples showed any fraction modern carbon (FmC) deviations due to pretreatment strategies, 3 experiments were carried out. The first compared 14C results for wood samples at or near the limit of 14C dating, pretreated with a standard ABA protocol used at UC Irvine’s Keck Carbon Cycle Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (KCCAMS) facility, with those obtained from ABA- and ABOX-SC-prepared aliquots of the same samples performed at Australian National University (ANU) in 2001. The second experiment subjected wood samples, ranging from ~12 ka BP to 14C-free, to 5 selected published ABA pretreatments. Third, we evaluated whether the ABA protocol needs a higher-strength final acid step (particularly important for removing CO2 absorption when samples are submerged in alkaline solutions). We are able to show that rigorous ABA treatments exist that can provide robust, reproducible results for many wood samples that are known to be >>50 ka BP, implying that a lack of control over the procedure’s outcome might be sample-related, rather than due simply to inadequacies in the chemical pretreatment.


DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16102

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