Carbon Dating in Oxford

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Courtesy of Specac Limited

Several members of our team visited the Archaeology Department (RLAHA) at the University of Oxford recently, to discover how some of our products were being used at the University.

Interestingly, they were informed that our presses were part of the carbon dating process for bones. The Department receive bones that have been founnd by archeologists in excavations or sometimes by members of the public, and they have analysed some interesting remains in the 30 years since the lab began.

When a bone is received into the laboratory it is first cleaned using a range of chemistry techniques, eventually it is turned into pure carbon/graphite. The graphite is then loaded into a specially made 2mm die and pressed into a thin, almost cylindrical pellet that can be carbon dated.

The most recent bones of note were from the inferred remains of King Richard III who was discovered in Leicester in September 2012. Other notable projects include the dating of Stonehenge, John the Baptist and the Turin Shroud.

The Department also works closely with the Police to establish the age of bones. If the bones are found to be less than 50 years old then a murder enquiry may be opened, It is possible to date very precisely in the last 50 years or so thanks to the atomic bomb testing of the mid-20th century.

Our thanks go to the staff of the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford.

If you have any interesting applications you would like us to share please contact us (reach@specac.co.uk).

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