• Radiocarbon Dating of Calcined Bones: Where Does the Carbon Come from?

      Zazzo, A.; Saliège, J-F.; Person, A.; Boucher, H. (Department of Geosciences, The University of Arizona, 2009-01-01)
      Over the past decade, radiocarbon dating of the carbonate contained in the mineral fraction of calcined bones has emerged as a viable alternative to dating skeletal remains in situations where collagen is no longer present. However, anomalously low 13C values have been reported for calcined bones, suggesting that the mineral fraction of bone is altered. Therefore, exchange with other sources of carbon during heating cannot be excluded. Here, we report new results from analyses on cremated bones found in archaeological sites in Africa and the Near East, as well as the results of several experiments aiming at improving our understanding of the fate of mineral and organic carbon of bone during heating. Heating of modern bone was carried out at different temperatures, for different durations, and under natural and controlled conditions, and the evolution of several parameters (weight, color, %C, %N, 13C value, carbonate content, crystallinity indexes measured by XRD and FTIR) was monitored. Results from archaeological sites confirm that calcined bones are unreliable for paleoenvironmental and paleodietary reconstruction using stable isotopes. Experimental results suggest that the carbon remaining in bone after cremation likely comes from the original inorganic pool, highly fractionated due to rapid recrystallization. Therefore, its reliability for 14C dating should be seen as close to that of tooth enamel, due to crystallographic properties of calcined bones.