By comparing this with a modern standard, an estimate of the calendar age of the artefact can be made.

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First, the lab will test the bone to see how much protein remains in it, because it’s the protein fraction of the bone that they actually date.

Once they know that there is sufficient protein remaining, they clean the surface of the bone to remove contaminants like dirt, charcoal or, in some cases, glue that the archaeologists have used to mend the bone fragments The cleaned bone sample is then ground up into smaller pieces to speed up chemical reaction with the acid in the next stage.

The ground-up bone is treated with hydrochloric acid, which dissolves out the hard part of the bone.

The remaining material goes through a gelatinisation process to free up the bone protein.

Filtration during this phase allows contaminants to be successfully removed. After this process, the resulting material has a spongy texture with an off-white colour. The pre-treated sample is loaded onto a quartz silica boat, which is loaded into a combustion tube.

It is a long tube which is hooked up to a vacuum line.

All air is evacuated from the vacuum line because it has C-14 in it and is a potential contaminant.

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