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Sample Types & Considerations

Sample Submission
  • The cost per sample is currently £280 + VAT where applicable.
  • There is an additional charge of £25 for samples needing collagen extraction (bone and antler) or cellulose extraction.
  • Bone sample charge will be reduced to £25 if insufficient collagen is produced.
  • There is a per sample surcharge of £5 for returning excess sample material.
  • We do NOT do authenticity testing of art and artefacts or date anything with a potential commercial value.

δ13C will be measured on the AMS for fractionation correction for the radiocarbon age. δ13C, δ15N and C:N will be run for bones on our EA-IRMS at no extra charge assuming there is sufficient sample material. Turnaround times are typically between 4 to 8 weeks, but please contact us for current times.

If you want to submit samples, either Stephen Hoper or Paula Reimer can assign you a login and PIN.

Once you have a PIN please go to the Online Radiocarbon Sample Submission page and complete your contact and invoice details. When you submit samples please fill in the required details (if weight is not known then estimate or enter 1). You will be assigned a UB number for each sample, which will be used to trace it through the laboratory. Please put this number on your sample package. Please print out the submission sheet, retaining a copy for your records, and send with the samples so we can double check that Sample ID numbers and UB numbers match.

Invoicing restrictions
  • We will send an invoice to the address on the submission sheet when the date certificates are issued unless otherwise agreed.
  • We cannot invoice second parties unless their invoice details are on the submission.
  • We cannot invoice more than one party for a sample submission.
  • Payment must be made in GBP only.
New purchase order requirements

A purchase order is required from institutions and organizations. In the absence of a purchase order advance payment is required but please be sure to include 20% VAT (within the EU).

Sample material labelled as soil, water, plants cannot be accepted from outside the European Union.

Limitation of damages

While we do everything we can to process all samples with care, samples can be lost at any stage of the process.

We cannot be liable for lost samples or the consequences thereof beyond the price paid for the analysis. If possible retain a portion of each of your samples in the unlikely event of loss in shipment or in the laboratory.

Sample size

If possible, please send only the amount required for the radiocarbon dating.

Minimum and optimum weights are given in the table below. For soils and sediments, the carbon content varies greatly. If the % carbon is unknown, then please contact us about conducting testing a sample first.

Material Type
Minimum Weight
Optimum Weight
Wood
5 mg 20 mg
Charcoal/Charred seeds
10 mg 30 mg
Bone/Antler/Teeth
500 mg 1000 mg
Cremated Bone
1.5 g 3 g
Shell/Carbonate
6 mg 20 mg
Peat (Humic acid fraction to be dated)
30 mg 100 mg
Peat (whole peat to be dated)
20 mg 50 mg
Plant macrofossils
3-4 mg 10 mg
Other
Please Ask!
Bone, Antler, and Teeth

Our ability to radiocarbon date bone and other collagen containing samples such as antler, horn, and teeth (dentine) depends upon the preservation of the protein component of the bones (mostly collagen). The preservation depends largely on the burial conditions (soil acidity, temperature, moisture etc.).

Our ability to radiocarbon date bone and other collagen-containing samples such as antler, horn, and teeth (dentine) depends on the preservation of the protein component of the bones. The preservation depends largely on the burial conditions (soil acidity, temperature, moisture, etc.) as well as the type of bone. For further bone criteria please see our guidelines for selecting bones.

We remove the mineral component of the bones because it is not reliable for dating. We then purify the remaining material to concentrate the collagen and remove as much soil contamination as possible following the procedure given in Brown et al. 1988 and using the ultrafilter cleaning method of Bronk Ramsey et al. 2004. A collagen yield of less than ~1% means that the sample was not well preserved and is unacceptable for dating purposes. These samples will not proceed to the final AMS stages. For samples with sufficient sample material remaining after AMS analysis, stable isotopes (13C and 15N) and C to N ratios will be measured on our EA-IRMS as a further test of collagen quality.

Always send clean, dry bones for dating.

Wood & Charcoal

As trees can be long-lived, wood and charcoal may have an in-built age associated with them. If possible, either small twigs or outer rings of the tree should be selected for dating. If these are not available, then short-lived species should be selected if possible; identifications must be done before samples are sent for radiocarbon dating.

Soil

Because soil is not a ‘closed’ system, it is not a good choice for radiocarbon dating, unless it is for the purpose of carbon storage and turnaround studies. In other words, due to bacterial action and water movement, different carbon compounds may be leached from the soil leaving behind more resistant, older carbon while more recent carbon may be absorbed.

Peat

Identifiable macrofossils are the preferred choice for radiocarbon dating in peat bogs. They should be selected and rinsed in deionised, distilled or ultra-pure water and stored in water with a few drops of 10% HCl or dried at low temperature (<60°C). If macrofossils are not available, bulk peat samples can be analysed.

Please remove any roots from bulk samples before sending them. Bulk peat samples should be dried or stored in a cool, dark place. Do not wrap them in aluminium foil because the acidic nature of the peat will cause it to disintegrate.

Lake Sediments

Lakes in ‘hardwater’ regions may have a radiocarbon age offset from the contemporaneous terrestrial environment.

This ‘freshwater reservoir effect’ (FRE) can be hundreds of years. The FRE may be estimated by radiocarbon dating the surface sediment, aquatic plants or molluscs but it may also have varied over time. This is less of a problem in ‘soft water’ regions, but glacial meltwater may have added old carbon to some lakes. Identifiable terrestrial plant remains (macrofossils) are therefore usually the preferred samples for radiocarbon dating lake sediments. There is the possibility of re-worked macrofossils being deposited in the lake.

If possible, fragile macrofossils that would not have survived transport are preferred. If terrestrial macrofossils are not available, then humic acids may be the best alternative provided the lake has a reasonably high organic carbon content and the sediments have not been dried out and exposed at times (in that case see Soil above).

Marine Samples

Marine samples have approximately a 400-year offset from contemporaneous terrestrial samples due to the Marine Reservoir Effect (MRE).

This can be corrected for in calibration using radiocarbon ages of modern (pre-nuclear testing) shells which have been measured for many regions of the ocean. The MRE may also vary over time which adds some uncertainty to the calibrated age range.

The most reliable molluscs to radiocarbon date are bivalves since many of these feed directly on plankton in the ocean although burrowing species should be avoided. Some species of molluscs may ingest limestone which can cause an age offset but may be fine in non-calcareous regions.

The shells of foraminifera are also often radiocarbon dated to provide ages for marine sediment cores. Generally monospecific planktonic samples are selected for this purpose.

Contaminants

Please indicate on the submission form if there are any known contaminants which could affect the radiocarbon age. These include preservatives used in conversation such as wax, varnish, glue, or insecticides and hydrocarbons. In many cases we may be able to remove the contaminants if we know about them.

We cannot be responsible for incorrect results if you don’t inform us about contaminants. Substances ordinarily found in nature such as soil and humic acids will be removed in pre-treatment and don’t need to be specified.

If there is any possibility that the samples were collected, processed, or stored where radioactive 14C or stable carbon 13C tracers were used at any time, it is imperative that we be informed before samples are sent. We can arrange a test of the storage or laboratory area if the use of tracers is a possibility.

We reserve the right to refuse to process samples of questionable provenance (shipboard sample collection, biomedical facilities etc.)

Packaging & shipping

Samples should be cleaned and dried (except for peats and sediments which may be sent wet if kept cool and dark). Samples may be sent in plastic sealable bags or glass or plastic vials. Glass vials should be used for samples such as foraminifera or small macrofossils which may build up static electricity and be difficult to remove from plastic vials. Larger samples may be wrapped in aluminium foil if desired, with the exception of peats and soils which may be acidic and react with the foil.

Irreplaceable samples should be sent by registered mail or delivery service.

Samples should be shipped to:
c/o Paula Reimer or Stephen Hoper
CHRONO Centre
Archaeology & Palaeoecology Building
42 Fitzwilliam Street
Belfast BT9 6AX
UK

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