‘Old wood’ effect in radiocarbon dating of prehistoric cremated bones?

Jesper Olsen, Jan Heinemeier, Karen Margrethe Hornstrup, Pia Bennike, Henrik Thrane

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    Numerous reports of successful radiocarbon dating of cremated bones have emerged during the last decade. The success of radiocarbon dating cremated bones depends on the temperature during burning and the degree of recrystallisation of the inorganic bone matrix. During cremation bones undergo major morphological and mineralogical changes which have raised some interesting questions and discussion on the origin of the carbon source in archaeologically cremated bones. Recent laboratory experiments reveal that the properties of the combustion atmosphere play a significant role regarding the source carbon in cremated bones. Thus radiocarbon dating cremated bones is potentially dating the wood used for the cremation fire. Here we compare a high precision radiocarbon dated human bone with an associated dendrochronological age from an oak coffin. We find that the age discrepancy between the dendrochronological age and the cremated bone of 73 ± 26 14C yr is best accounted for by the so called ‘old wood’ effect.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)30-34
    Number of pages5
    JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Archaeology
    • History

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