Carbon 14 dating of papyrus fragments
Additionally, with works of art on paper, we do not often have an expendable sample for this type of analysis.Unlike the Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy and X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy described in the two previous posts which require no sample and were used to investigate pigments and adhesives used on the papyrus, C-14 dating requires a sample from the object, usually about 5 mg, which is destroyed during testing.After placing as many loose fragments as best as possible (we will talk more about our repairs in a future post), we had some very small ones remaining with no ink or coloring which were unplaceable.We consulted with our curators and decided that we could use a few of these small fragments for C-14 analysis.There are only a handful of labs in this country that do this kind of analysis.
Carbon-14 (C-14) dating was one of the first scientific analytical techniques that we employed to confirm the date for this piece, thought to be approximately 1420 B. C-14 dating requires that the material in question be at least 2,000 years old (and up to 50,000 years old) to get a result with a significant certainty. For several reasons, it is a rare opportunity for us to test Museum objects using this technique.Fortunately, we believed our papyrus fit into this time range.(About 2 atoms per second per centimeter squared are produced.) These neutrons react with nitrogen atoms to form 14C atoms, an unstable form of carbon.14C mixes up into the atmosphere and is taken in by plants during photosynthesis, and other organisms as part of the food chain.