Accurate compound-specific 14C dating of archaeological pottery vessels

Emmanuelle J A Casanova, Timothy D J Knowles, Alex Bayliss, Julie B Dunne, Marek Z Baranski, Anthony Denaire, Philippe Lefranc, Savino di Lernia, Mélanie Roffet-Salque, Jessica Smyth, Alistair Barclay, Toby Gillard, Erich Claβe, Bryony Coles, Michael Ilett, Christian Jeunesse, Marta Krueger, Arkadiusz Marciniak, Steve Minnitt, Rocco RotunnoPieter van de Velde, Ivo van Wijk, Jonathan Cotton, Andy Daykin, Richard P Evershed*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Pottery is one of the most commonly recovered artefacts from archaeological sites. Despite more than a century of relative dating based on typology and seriation1, accurate dating of pottery by the radiocarbon method has proven extremely challenging due to the limited survival of organic temper and unreliability of visible residues2-4. We report here a new method of dating directly archaeological pottery based on accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) analysis of 14C in absorbed food residues: palmitic (C16:0) and stearic
(C18:0) fatty acids purified by preparative gas chromatography (pcGC)5-8. We present the first accurate compound-specific radiocarbon determinations of lipids extracted from pottery vessels, which were rigorously evaluated by comparison with dendrochronological dates9,10 and inclusion in site and regional chronologies containing suites of radiocarbon dates on other materials11-15. Critically, the compound-specific datesfrom each of the C16:0 and C18:0 fatty acids in pottery vessels provide an internal quality
control of the results6 and, are entirely compatible with dates for other commonly dated materials. Accurate radiocarbon dating of pottery vessels can reveal: (i) the period of use of pottery; (ii) the antiquity of organic residues including when specific foodstuffs were exploited; (iii) sites chronologies in the absence of traditionally datable materials and (iv) direct verification of pottery typochronologies. As exemplars, the method was applied to the dating of dairy and carcass product exploitation in Neolithic vessels, from Britain, Anatolia, central and western Europe, and Saharan Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)506–510
Number of pages5
Early online date8 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2020


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