Accurate compound-specific 14C dating of archaeological pottery vessels


Casanova E, Knowles T, Bayliss A, Dunne J, Barański MZ, Denaire A, Lefranc P, di Lernia S, Roffet-Salque M, Smyth J, Barclay A, Gillard T, Claβen E, Coles B & Ilett M (2020) Accurate compound-specific 14C dating of archaeological pottery vessels. Nature, 580 (2020), pp. 506-510.

Pottery is one of the most commonly recovered artefacts from archaeological sites. Despite more than a century of relative dating based on typology and seriation, accurate dating of pottery by the radiocarbon method has proven extremely challenging due to the limited survival of organic temper and unreliability of visible residues. 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). We present the first accurate compound-specific radiocarbon determinations of lipids extracted from pottery vessels, which were rigorously evaluated by comparison with dendrochronological dates and inclusion in site and regional chronologies containing suites of radiocarbon dates on other materials . Critically, the compound-specific dates from each of the C16:0 and C18:0 fatty acids in pottery vessels provide an internal quality control of the results 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.

Additional co-authors: Christian Jeunesse, Marta Krueger, Arkadiusz Marciniak, Steve Minnitt, Rocco Rotunno, Pieter van de Velde, Ivo van Wijk, Jonathan Cotton, Andy Daykin, Richard P Evershed

Nature: Volume 580, Issue 2020

Publication date23/04/2020
Publication date online08/04/2020
Date accepted by journal13/02/2020