Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-hfldf Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-25T10:34:18.664Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Collagen Quality Indicators for Radiocarbon Dating of Bones: New Data on Bronze Age Cyprus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2016

C Scirè Calabrisotto
Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità, Università di Firenze, Piazza Brunelleschi 4, 50121 Firenze, Italy
M E Fedi*
INFN Sezione di Firenze, via Sansone 1, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Fi), Italy
L Caforio
INFN Sezione di Firenze, via Sansone 1, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Fi), Italy Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, via Sansone 1, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Fi), Italy
L Bombardieri
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università di Torino, Via Sant'Ottavio 20, 10124 Torino, Italy
P A Mandò
INFN Sezione di Firenze, via Sansone 1, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Fi), Italy Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, via Sansone 1, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Fi), Italy
3Corresponding author. Email:


Radiocarbon dating of bones can be very useful in archaeological contexts, especially when dealing with funerary deposits lacking material culture, e.g. pottery vessels. 14C measurements of bone samples are usually performed on the extracted collagen residue. The content and the quality of collagen can vary significantly, mainly depending on bone preservation and diagenesis. Generally speaking, environmental conditions such as low pH level of soils, high temperatures, and percolating groundwaters, typical of arid and tropical zones, can affect the preservation of collagen; at the same time, bones recovered in such environments are more likely to be contaminated with carbon from the surrounding environment. Possible contamination of samples can also occur in temperate zones. While low collagen content is a condition we cannot overcome, we can use several chemical and elemental indicators in order to assess collagen quality. Among these, the C/N atomic ratio is considered a good parameter for detecting low-quality collagen and possibly contaminated samples. In a combustion and graphitization setup like that installed at INFN-LABEC, Florence, measurement can be easily performed using an elemental analyzer when combusting the sample prior to graphitization, thus requiring no extra effort (or extra amount of sample) during the preparation procedure. Bone samples recently 14C dated at INFN-LABEC have confirmed that the measurement of C/N atomic ratios can give some indications of the collagen quality. The bone material was collected from 3 necropoles of the Bronze Age period in Cyprus (Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou, Lophou-Kolaouzou, and Erimi-Kafkalla&Pitharka, along the Kouris Valley), an area characterized by environmental conditions that do not favor bone preservation. Samples were treated to extract collagen and measured by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). 14C results have been compared with the archaeological evidence, showing some relationship between measured C/N atomic ratios and collagen quality. In particular, when grouping the measured samples according to their C/N ratio, the agreement between 14C dates and archaeological evidence is good or inconsistent when the C/N ratio clearly falls inside or outside the “recommended” range, respectively, with a still reasonable agreement also when it is slightly above the upper limit of that range.

Copyright © 2013 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bombardieri, L. 2011. Memory and Change, Sharing and Competition. The Appointment of Spaces and On-Destru within the Bronze Age Cypriot Communities. Padova: Edizioni Munari.Google Scholar
Bombardieri, L, Scirè Calabrisotto, C, Albertini, E, Chelazzi, F. 2011. Dating the context (or contextualizing the dating?). New evidence from the Southern Cemetery at Ermi-Laonin tou Porakou, Proceedings of the 11th Annual Meeting of Postgraduate Cypriote Archaeology, Lyon. Cahiers du Centre d'Etudes Cypriotes 41:87108.Google Scholar
Brock, F, Higham, T, Bronk Ramsey, C. 2010. Pre-screening techniques for identification of samples suitable for radiocarbon dating of poorly preserved bones. Journal of Archaeological Science 37(4):855–65.Google Scholar
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51(1):337–60.Google Scholar
Christofi, P, Stefani, E, Bombardieri, L. Forthcoming. Bridging the gap: long-term use and re-use of Bronze Age funerary area at Ypsonas-Vounaros and Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou. In: Matthäus, H, Vonhoff, C, editors. Proceedings of the 12th POCA Meeting. Erlangen, 23–25 November 2012.Google Scholar
Collins, MJ, Nielsen-Marsh, CM, Hiller, J, Smith, CI, Roberts, JP, Prigodich, RV, Wess, TJ, Csapò, J, Millard, AR, Turner-Walker, G. 2002. The survival of organic matter in bone: a review. Archaeometry 44(3):383–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DeNiro, MJ. 1985. Postmortem preservation and alteration of in vivo bone collagen isotope ratios in relation to palaeodietary reconstruction. Nature 317(6040):806–9.Google Scholar
DeNiro, MJ, Weiner, S. 1988. A chemical, enzymatic and spectroscopic characterization of “collagen” and other organic fractions from prehistoric bones. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 52:(9)2197–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fedi, ME, Cartocci, A, Manetti, M, Taccetti, F, Mandò, PA. 2007. The 14C AMS facility at LABEC, Florence. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 259(1):1822.Google Scholar
Gianfrate, G, D'Elia, M, Quarta, G, Giotta, L, Valli, L, Calcagnile, L. 2007. Qualitative application based on IR spectroscopy for bone sample quality control in radiocarbon dating. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 259(1):316–9.Google Scholar
Haas, H, Banewics, JJ. 1980. Radiocarbon dating of bone apatite using Thermal release of CO2 . Radiocarbon 22(2):537–44.Google Scholar
Hedges, REM, van Klinken, J. 1992. A review of current approaches in the pretreatment of bone for radiocarbon dating by AMS. Radiocarbon 34(3):279–91.Google Scholar
Knapp, AB. 2008. Prehistoric & Protohistoric Cyprus. Identity, Insularity and Connectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Longin, R. 1971. New method of collagen extraction for radiocarbon dating. Nature 230(5291):241–2.Google Scholar
Manning, SW. 2007. Clarifying the ‘High’ v. ‘Low’ Aegean/Cypriot chronology for the mid Second Millennium BC: assessing the evidence, interpretive frameworks, and current state of the debate. In: Bietak, M, Czerny, E, editors. The Synchronization of Civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C III. Proceedings of the SCIEM 2000. 2nd EuroConference, Vienna, 28 May–1 June 2003. p 101–37. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences at the Austrian Science Fund.Google Scholar
Merrillees, RS. 1992. The absolute chronology of the Bronze Age in Cyprus: a revision. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 288:4752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nielsen-Marsh, CM, Smith, CI, Jans, MME, Nord, A, Kars, H, Collins, MJ. 2007. Bone diagenesis in the European Holocene II: taphonomic and environmental considerations. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(9):1523–31.Google Scholar
Reimer, PJ, Baillie, MGL, Bard, E, Bayliss, A, Beck, JW, Blackwell, PG, Bronk Ramsey, C, Buck, CE, Burr, GS, Edwards, RL, Friedrich, M, Grootes, PM, Guilderson, TP, Hajdas, I, Heaton, TJ, Hogg, AG, Hughen, KA, Kaiser, KF, Kromer, B, McCormac, FG, Manning, SW, Reimer, RW, Richards, DA, Southon, JR, Talamo, S, Turney, CSM, van der Plicht, J, Weyhenmeyer, CE. 2009. IntCal09 and Marine09 radiocarbon age calibration curves, 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 51(4):1111–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saliège, JF, Person, A, Paris, F. 1995. Preservation of 13C/12C original ratio and 14C dating of the mineral fraction of human bones from Saharan tombs, Niger. Journal of Archaeological Science 22(2):301–12.Google Scholar
Scirè Calabrisotto, C, Fedi, ME, Caforio, L, Bombardieri, L. 2012. Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou (Limassol, Cyprus): radiocarbon analyses in the Bronze Age cemetery and workshop complex. Radiocarbon 54(3–4):475–82.Google Scholar
Tripp, JA, Squire, ME, Hamilton, J, Hedges, REM. 2010. A nondestructive prescreening method for bone collagen content using micro-computed tomography. Radiocarbon 52(2):612–9.Google Scholar
van Klinken, GJ. 1999. Bone collagen quality indicators for palaeodietary and radiocarbon measurements. Journal of Archaeological Science 26(6):687–95.Google Scholar
Violaris, Y, Bombardieri, L, Scirè Calabrisotto, C, Fedi, ME, Caforio, L. Forthcoming. The Bronze Age cemetery at Lofou-Koulauzou (Cyprus): towards a cross-analysis of radiocarbon results and funerary assemblages within the burial contexts. In: Bombardieri, L, editor. Identity and Connectivity. Proceedings of the 16th Symposium on Mediterranean Archaeology, Florence, 1–3 March 2012. British Archaeological Reports. Oxford: Archaeopress Google Scholar
Weiner, S, Traub, W. 1992. Bone structure: from angstroms to microns. FASEB Journal 6(3):879–85.Google Scholar