• Hydropyrolysis: Implications for Radiocarbon Pretreatment and Characterization of Black Carbon

      Ascough, P. L.; Bird, M. I.; Meredith, W.; Wood, R. E.; Snape, C. E.; Brock, F.; Higham, T. F. G.; Large, D. J.; Apperley, D. C. (Department of Geosciences, The University of Arizona, 2010-01-01)
      Charcoal is the result of natural and anthropogenic burning events, when biomass is exposed to elevated temperatures under conditions of restricted oxygen. This process produces a range of materials, collectively known as pyrogenic carbon, the most inert fraction of which is known as black carbon (BC). BC degrades extremely slowly and is resistant to diagenetic alteration involving the addition of exogenous carbon, making it a useful target substance for radiocarbon dating particularly of more ancient samples, where contamination issues are critical. We present results of tests using a new method for the quantification and isolation of BC, known as hydropyrolysis (hypy). Results show controlled reductive removal of non-BC organic components in charcoal samples, including lignocellulosic and humic material. The process is reproducible and rapid, making hypy a promising new approach not only for isolation of purified BC for 14C measurement but also in quantification of different labile and resistant sample C fractions.
    • Refining Background Corrections for Radiocarbon Dating of Bone Collagen at ORAU

      Wood, R. E.; Bronk Ramsey, C.; Higham, T. F. G. (Department of Geosciences, The University of Arizona, 2010-01-01)
      During the laboratory pretreatment of samples for radiocarbon dating, small amounts of carbon may be added to a sample. Contamination can be incorporated at any stage: during chemical pretreatment, combustion to CO2, graphitization, or accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) measurement. Such carbon contamination is often modern in age, and so can have an especially severe effect on samples older than ~25 ka BP. During the extraction of collagen from bone using the ultrafiltration protocol at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU), small amounts of young carbon are added to the sample. Currently, this contamination is poorly characterized when less than 10 mg of collagen is extracted from a bone. Demand to date small collagen samples with 14C concentrations that approach the detection limit of AMS measurement has increased recently with the growing interest in, for example, directly dating Neanderthal remains and Upper Paleolithic bone artifacts. This paper aims to reduce the minimum collagen sample size required to produce a reliable date from 10 to 5 mg by re-examining the combustion background and subsequently the pretreatment background for bone. The average of 136 measurements of directly combusted nylon suggests that 0.0007 0.001 mg of modern carbon is added to each sample, although the distribution is positively skewed. Regression analysis of the measurements of 52 collagen samples extracted from a bone of background age results in a background of just less than 50,000 BP for bone treated at ORAU.