A New Way to Date Old Ceramics





If you are an archaeologist, determining when a pot was made is not just a matter of checking the bottom for a time stamp. Dating clay-based materials like ceramics recovered from archeological sites can be time consuming, not to mention complex and expensive.

Patrick Bowen, a senior majoring in materials science and engineering, is refining a new way of dating ceramic artifacts that could one day shave thousands of dollars off the cost of doing archaeological research.

Called rehydroxylation dating, the technique was recently developed by researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh. It takes advantage of ceramics’ predictable tendency to bond chemically with water over time.

Using shards of pottery dating from 1854 to 1888, which Scarlett provided from an archaeological dig in Utah, Bowen tried out the original dating technique at different temperatures and got significantly different “ages” for the shards. He then developed a new equation that addresses those temperature effects, as well as the fact that rehydroxylation is actually a two-step process: First, water vapor physically penetrates the pottery. Then, it bonds chemically to the pottery’s constituent minerals.

Bowen’s equation worked better, but not well enough to generate definitive dates. Humidity fluctuations affected the samples’ weights, skewing the results. Now the research team is using new methods to provide constant humidity and will run additional tests over the next few months on various types of ceramics of different ages....





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