Rules for carbon dating

Collagen was extracted from four macromammal bone samples of known-age (for details please refer to the Methods section) covering the full range of radiocarbon dating: a horse bone VIRI F (less than one C half-life), two whale bones VIRI I and VIRI H (approximately two half-lives) and a mammoth bone VIRI E (more than five half-lives).The efficiency of eight collagen extraction protocols (in terms of quantity of protein extracted and collagen integrity) was tested on seven samples in a previous study currently used in our laboratory for the radiocarbon dating and isotopic analysis of macrovertebrate bone samples.Our approach was elaborated on known-age samples from the Fifth International radiocarbon Inter-comparison (VIRI) and served as proof of concept.

The advent of accelerator mass spectrometers (AMS) has revolutionized the field of archaeology but routine AMS dating still requires 60–200 mg of bone, which far exceeds that of small vertebrates or remains which hold a patrimonial value (e.g. Here, we present the first radiocarbon dates obtained from minute amounts of bone (3–60 mg) using a MIni CArbon DAting System (MICADAS).In effect, they provide us with windows to past societies, and contribute to our knowledge of ancient human evolution and cultural development.Hard tissues contain an organic phase (mainly the protein collagen type I) embedded in a mineral phase (made of a non-stoichiometric biogenic apatite).While the exchange of inorganic carbon occurs much more readily, the relative chemical inertness of biopolymers makes them ideal for dating; therefore, the majority of bone radiocarbon dates are obtained from the collagen phase.The chemical integrity of this biomolecule can be assessed using simple biochemical criteria such as %C, %N and C/N ratio.

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