Washington, March 24 (ANI): A team of scientists has developed a revolutionary new method to determine the age of ancient mummies, old artwork, and other relics without causing damage to these treasures of global cultural heritage.
According to Marvin Rowe, a professor emeritus at Texas A and M University College Station, who led the research team, the new method is a form of radiocarbon dating, the archaeologist's standard tool to estimate the age of an object by measuring its content of naturally-occurring radioactive carbon.
Traditional carbon dating involves removing and burning small samples of the object.
Although it sometimes requires taking minute samples of an object, even that damage may be unacceptable for some artifacts.
The new method does not involve removing a sample of the object.
Conventional carbon dating estimates the age of an artifact based on its content of carbon-14 (C-14), a naturally occurring, radioactive form of carbon.
Comparing the C-14 levels in the object to levels of C-14 expected in the atmosphere for a particular historic period allows scientists to estimate the age of an artifact.
Both the conventional and new carbon dating methods can determine the age of objects as far back as 45,000 to 50,000 years, Rowe said.
Rowe's new method, called "non-destructive carbon dating," eliminates sampling, the destructive acid-base washes, and burning.
In the new method, scientists place an entire artifact in a special chamber with a plasma, an electrically charged gas similar to gases used in big-screen plasma television displays.
"The gas slowly and gently oxidizes the surface of the object to produce carbon dioxide for C-14 analysis without damaging the surface," said Rowe.
Rowe and his colleagues used the technique to analyze the ages of about 20 different organic substances, including wood, charcoal, leather, rabbit hair, a bone with mummified flesh attached, and a 1,350-year-old Egyptian weaving.
The results match those of conventional carbon dating techniques, they said.
"The chamber could be sized to accommodate large objects, such as works of art and even the Shroud of Turin, which some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ," Rowe said.
"This technique stands to revolutionize radiocarbon dating," he said.
"It expands the possibility for analyzing extensive museum collections that have previously been off limits because of their rarity or intrinsic value and the destructive nature of the urrent method of radiocarbon dating," he added. (ANI)