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Carbon dating not useful metal artifacts

The “present” in “before present” when it comes to radiocarbon dating is slightly misleading, because it doesn’t refer to the current year, but rather 1950, as it was around this time that the calibration curves for radiocarbon dating were established.

Art historians can place it within a continuum of cultural works, but that just gives a rough estimate. Until now, that has remained a mystery because metal objects can’t be directly dated the same way materials like bones can.

Inside the thin golden structure is tightly packed dark brown dirt, a byproduct of the Pre-Columbian metalworking technique called the “lost-wax method.” And most importantly, this sediment contained enough organic material to be used for carbon dating.

“There is some organic material in it, probably little roots or grass or maybe ash,” said Archaeology Collections Manager Chris Coleman.

It’s called destructive sampling, and it’s one of the hardest decisions curators and collections managers can make.

“You don’t want to do it unless there is a very good reason, because it can never be undone,” said Coleman.


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