The simple method promises to be as significant a technique for dating ceramic materials as radiocarbon dating has become for organic materials such as bone or wood.
A team from The University of Manchester and The University of Edinburgh has discovered a new technique which they call 'rehydroxylation dating' that can be used on fired clay ceramics like bricks, tile and pottery.
Working with The Museum of London, the team has been able to date brick samples from Roman, medieval and modern periods with remarkable accuracy.
They have established that their technique can be used to determine the age of objects up to 2,000 years old – but believe it has the potential to be used to date objects around 10,000 years old.
The method relies on the fact that fired clay ceramic material will start to chemically react with atmospheric moisture as soon as it is removed from the kiln after firing.
This continues over its lifetime causing it to increase in weight – the older the material, the greater the weight gain.
The technique involves measuring the mass of a sample of ceramic and then heating it to around 500 degrees Celsius in a furnace, which removes the water.
The sample is then monitored in a super-accurate measuring device known as a microbalance, to determine the precise rate at which the ceramic will combine with water over time.
If an archeologist recovers a sherd containing one of these makers' marks, she or he may identify the ceramic's origin and date of manufacture.The method is based on the principle that trees add a growth ring for each year of their lives, and that variations in climatic conditions will affect the width of these rings on suitable trees.In a very dry year growth will be restricted, and the ring narrow, while a wet and humid year will produce luxuriant growth and a thick ring.The office provides training opportunities for university students and makes use of their skills in the latest technology.We also collaborate on archaeological projects with Mexico's national archaeological program and have held educational outreach programs in surrounding states.