Dating Ceramics: Ancient clay has an internal clock

Ancient clay has an internal clock according to an interesting BBC article.

    Radiocarbon dating, used for bone or wood, cannot be used for ceramic material because it does not contain carbon.

    Their new rehydroxylation dating method, reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, measures the amount of water the material has “recombined with”.

Based on my somewhat cursory observations as a non-scientist, radiocarbon dating has some issues to begin with, but that’s beside the point. As a ceramic artist the article intrigues me. Tests with this method so far seem to be very accurate, unless the building ever experienced a fire. In such a case the brick’s internal clock reverts to zero. Makes perfect sense; the fire drives all of the reincorporated moisture out of the brick, just like the kiln did originally.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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