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Development and commercialisation of a new purification system for contaminant-free radiocarbon dating

Project description

Innovative chromatography solution for radiocarbon dating

Early anatomically modern humans moved from Africa into Eurasia between 60-40 000 years ago. During this period, Neanderthals and other archaic humans disappeared to extinction. The study of this period relies on the power of radiocarbon dating for the chronological framework underpinning it. However, the overwhelming effects of even trace (~<1 %) of carbon contamination on archaeological bone samples affect reliable dating. The use of preparative liquid chromatography to isolate specific amino acids from bone collagen for radiocarbon dating emerged as a solution. Nevertheless, the slow procedure limits the advantages of this method. The EU-funded ChromaChron project will develop and commercialise a new chromatography solution to enable higher throughput and greater efficiency in these techniques for collagen-based samples.

Objective

The ERC-funded project ‘PalaeoChron’ is exploring the dispersal and chronology of early anatomically modern humans outwards from Africa and into Eurasia between 60-40,000 years ago. The study of this key period, during which Neanderthals and other archaic humans disappeared to extinction, relies on the power of radiocarbon dating for the chronological framework underpinning it. There is a huge onus on reliable dating, but this is extremely challenging due to the overwhelming effects of even trace (~<1%) amounts of carbon contamination on archaeological bone samples. To overcome this, as part of the project, we have been using preparative liquid chromatography to isolate specific amino acids from bone collagen for radiocarbon dating. This has seen a dramatic improvement in our ability to decontaminate samples for dating, and obtain accurate results. The Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU) is unique in the world in routinely using this approach for radiocarbon dating, but the current method does have some limitations despite the obvious advantages. The main limitation is the time required for the chromatography step; only one sample per day can be prepared. This Proof of Concept grant aims to develop a new chromatography solution to enable a higher throughput and a greater efficiency in the application of these purification techniques for collagen based samples. We have been working with our industrial partners in the development of the method and we want to bring a commercial product to market. Enabling this technology to be taken up by other laboratories will allow significant improvements to routine dating and geochemical analysis, thereby transforming our ability to provide a chronology for the human and environmental past.

Host institution

THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
Net EU contribution
€ 136 238,00
Address
WELLINGTON SQUARE UNIVERSITY OFFICES
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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Region
South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Total cost
€ 136 238,00

Beneficiaries (1)