, Volume 397, Issue 6, pp 2491-2499
Date: 27 May 2010

Microscale imaging of the preservation state of 5,000-year-old archaeological bones by synchrotron infrared microspectroscopy

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Abstract

Archaeological bone materials record characteristic markers of life in prehistoric times (dating, climate, environment, diet, human migration) in their isotopic and chemical composition in addition to palaeontological, archaeozoological, anthropological and palaeogenetic information. Thus, the discovery and conservation of archaeological bone materials is of great importance to get access to this information. However, archaeological materials are altered by different postmortem processes and it appears necessary to estimate if the archaeological information is still reliable or if it has been modified during burial. As archaeological bone materials present a high structural hierarchy at the micro- and nanoscale, changes induced by diagenetic phenomena have to be observed at these scales. One method for revealing post mortem changes of the bone structure and composition at the microscale is synchrotron radiation micro-FTIR imaging (SR micro-FTIR). Thus, thin sections of about 5,000-year-old archaeological bones have been analysed in transmission mode at the IRIS beamline (BESSY II, HZB Berlin) to determine markers of the state of bone preservation at the microscale. The archaeological bone material comes from station 19 of the Neolithic site of the Chalain Lake. By using SR micro-FTIR it was possible to image characteristic bone structures, e.g. osteons (the constitutive histological unit of cortical bone), using the absorption band ratios corresponding to different chemical bone constituents (collagen content and quality, phosphate crystallinity, carbonate content). These data allow us to precisely evaluate the state of preservation of a 5,000-year-old bone at the histological level.

Figure

Chemical mapping of a thin section of the archaeological bone AB_CH19nb1 from the Neolithic station 19 at Chalain Lake