Calcined Bone as a Reliable Medium for Radiocarbon Dating: A Test Using Paired North American Samples

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Anthropology and Museum Studies

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Radiocarbon dating using charcoal and bone collagen, two standards of archaeological chronology, can be difficult to impossible in environments where natural burning is common and bone does not preserve well. In such settings, charcoal ages cannot always be trusted and collagen is unavailable. Calcined bone can be a viable alternative medium in these situations but it has rarely been exploited in the Americas. One area that could benefit from its use is the forested Pacific Northwest. We compare calcined bone ages with charcoal and/or collagen dates from individual features or discrete cultural strata in 10 Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia sites dating between 9000 and 100 B.P. Resulting radiocarbon age estimates based on calcined bone closely match those based on charcoal and/or collagen in nearly all cases. We obtained calcined bone dates from three additional Holocene-aged sites that had not previously produced accurate results, obtaining findings consistent with estimates based on cross dating. Preserving well where all other organic media of cultural origin are lost or unreliable, calcined bone holds promise for dating sites in conifer forests and other acidic soil settings, and can allow researchers to refine archaeological sequences that have long defied accurate chronometric analysis.


This article was originally published in American Antiquity. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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American Antiquity


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