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Radiocarbon Dating Wooden Carvings and Skeletal Remains from Pitch Lake, Trinidad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Fiona Brock
  • Joanna Ostapkowicz
  • Alex C. Wiedenhoeft
  • Ian Bull
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1447-1461
Number of pages15
Issue number5
Early online date31 Oct 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Jul 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 31 Oct 2017
DatePublished (current) - Oct 2017


Since the mid 19th century, rare prehistoric wooden carvings and human skeletal remains have been dredged from Pitch Lake, Trinidad, during commercial asphalt mining. Establishing a chronology for these objects is challenging, due to both a lack of stratigraphic and contextual information and the necessity to completely remove any pitch to ensure accurate radiocarbon dates. A range of solvent extraction protocols was tested to identify the most suitable one for pretreating the Pitch Lake artefacts, and then applied to ten wooden objects and a human cranium recovered from the lake. Several of these objects yielded earlier dates than expected, raising concerns that pitch had remained after pretreatment and had affected the dates. Pyrolysis-GC/MS and optical microscopy techniques were applied to material from the human cranium, a weaving tool, and a small bowl. These techniques, as well as routinely applied laboratory quality assurance procedures, indicated that there was no residual pitch within the cranium or the weaving tool after pretreatment, giving confidence to the dates. However, the small bowl was observed to still be contaminated with pitch after extensive pretreatment, indicating that the date is too old and can only be considered as a terminus post quem.

Additional information

Special issue: 8th International Symposium, Edinburgh, 27 June–1 July, 2016 Part 1 of 2

    Research areas

  • asphalt, Pitch Lake, radiocarbon, Trinidad, wood

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    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Cambridge University Press at . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 985 KB, PDF document


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