The University of Arizona

Sampling Iron for Radiocarbon Dating: Influence of Modern Steel Tools on 14C Dating of Ancient Iron Artifacts

Matthias Hüls, Pieter M Grootes, Marie-Josee Nadeau

Abstract


Before the 17th century, charcoal was regularly used in the production of iron (smelting and forging) and some of this charcoal carbon was incorporated into the iron. Depending on the age of the wood used to produce the charcoal, the age of the carbon incorporated in the iron lattice can reflect the age of manufacture of the iron artifacts. A reliable preparation method allowing for the routine dating of iron artifacts would permit the dating of numerous objects for which now the age can only be estimated. In an earlier work (Hüls et al. 2004), we tested the extraction of carbon from iron samples by closed-tube combustion. The samples were cut in small pieces to ease the release of the carbon from the lattice. During the tests, it became clear that the steel tools used to cut the samples can add contamination at the surface. As modern steel is made using coal, this leads to erroneously old ages. We have tested ways to reduce or eliminate this surface contamination from the sampling tools using iron artifacts of known ages. In order to quantify the contamination, we produced standard test materials from pure iron (99.998% Fe) melted with carbon of known 14C content and prepared samples using different cutting tools. The results of these tests indicate that the proper choice of cutting technique and tool, combined with an additional cleaning of the freshly cut surface, reduces sample contaminations to low levels; measured sample 14C concentrations are close to the 14C content of the charcoal used to produce these standard iron samples.

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