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Changes of Chemical Structure and Composition of Charcoal by Radiocarbon Pretreatments: Decontamination by ABA and ABOx Treatments

  • Shinji Tomiyama (a1), Masayo Minami (a2), Toshio Nakamura (a2), Koichi Mimura (a1) and Hiroyuki Kagi (a3)...


Charcoal is widely used for radiocarbon dating in archaeological and paleoenvironmental studies. Reliable 14C dating requires appropriate chemical treatment to remove postdeposition contamination from the charcoal samples. This study assesses two pretreatments: acid-base-acid (ABA) and acid-base-oxidation with stepped combustion (ABOx-SC). In addition to 14C, the effects of the treatments on the chemical structure and composition of charcoal were studied using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and C/H/O elemental analysis. Samples of pine wood charred in the laboratory at 270, 300, 400, 500, and 600°C, and environmental samples of charred pine wood from pyroclastic flow deposits in southern Kyushu, Japan, were tested. The laboratory-charred samples showed that NaOH treatment removed highly hydrophilic organic components derived from endogenous and exogenous organic materials in the samples and that oxidation treatment caused the oxidative degradation of molecules in samples starting from its edges. The ABA-treated environmental charcoal yielded younger 14C dates than the ABOx-treated samples, probably owing to the effects of remaining organic contaminants bound to the edges of the aromatic molecular structures produced by the original pyrolysis. Meanwhile, it was found that ABA-SC treatment can reduce contaminants as effectively as ABOx-SC treatment. This implies that the stepped combustion (SC), not the chemical oxidation, is the key to reduce contaminant residue left after ABA and ABOx treatments. The results in this study indicate that the investigation of the structural and compositional changes of charcoal during its pretreatment is useful for assessment of the reliability of the 14C ages.


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