Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Fire and water reveal new archaeological dating method

Scientists at The University of Manchester have developed a new way of dating archaeological objects – using fire and water to unlock their 'internal clocks'.

The simple method promises to be as significant a technique for dating ceramic materials as radiocarbon dating has become for organic materials such as bone or wood.

A team from The University of Manchester and The University of Edinburgh has discovered a new technique which they call 'rehydroxylation dating' that can be used on fired clay ceramics like bricks, tile and pottery.

Working with The Museum of London, the team has been able to date brick samples from Roman, medieval and modern periods with remarkable accuracy.

They have established that their technique can be used to determine the age of objects up to 2,000 years old – but believe it has the potential to be used to date objects around 10,000 years old.

The exciting new findings have been published online today (20 May 2009) by the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

The method relies on the fact that fired clay ceramic material will start to chemically react with atmospheric moisture as soon as it is removed from the kiln after firing. This continues over its lifetime causing it to increase in weight – the older the material, the greater the weight gain.

In 2003 the Manchester and Edinburgh team discovered a new law that precisely defines how the rate of reaction between ceramic and water varies over time.

The application of this law underpins the new dating method because the amount of water that is chemically combined with a ceramic provides an 'internal clock' that can be accessed to determine its age.

The technique involves measuring the mass of a sample of ceramic and then heating it to around 500 degrees Celsius in a furnace, which removes the water.

The sample is then monitored in a super-accurate measuring device known as a microbalance, to determine the precise rate at which the ceramic will combine with water over time.

Using the time law, it is possible to extrapolate the information collected to calculate the time it will take to regain the mass lost on heating – revealing the sample's age.

Lead author Dr Moira Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE), said: "These findings come after many years of hard work. We are extremely excited by the potential of this new technique, which could become an established way of determining the age of ceramic artefacts of archaeological interest.

"The method could also be turned on its head and used to establish the mean temperature of a material over its lifetime, if a precise date of firing were known. This could potentially be useful in climate change studies.

"As well as the new dating method, there are also more wide-ranging applications of the work, such as the detection of forged ceramic."

The three-year £100,000 project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, with the microbalance - which measures mass to 1/10th of a millionth of a gram – funded by a £66,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).

Researchers are now planning to look at whether the new dating technique can be applied to earthenware, bone china and porcelain.

The paper, entitled 'Dating fired-clay ceramics using long-term power-law rehydroxylation kinetics' has been published online and is due to appear in a future edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society A. A copy of the paper is available on request.

The full research team comprised Dr Moira Wilson, Dr Margaret Carter, Prof William Hoff, Ceren Ince, Shaun Savage and Bernard McKay from The University of Manchester, Professor Chris Hall from the School of Engineering and Centre for Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Edinburgh and Ian Betts from The Museum of London.

The Canterbury Archaeological Trust provided additional samples and information for the study while Ibstock Brick Ltd provided kiln-fresh bricks.

Alex Waddington | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1
21.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Hochfrequenzphysik und Radartechnik FHR

nachricht Taming chaos: Calculating probability in complex systems
21.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>