The thermoluminescence technique is the only physical means of determining the absolute age of pottery presently available. It is an absolute dating method, and does not depend on comparison with similar objects as does obsidian hydration dating, for example. Most mineral materials, including the constituents of pottery, have the property of thermoluminescence TL , where part of the energy from radioactive decay in and around the mineral is stored in the form of trapped electrons and later released as light upon strong heating as the electrons are detrapped and combine with lattice ions. By comparing this light output with that produced by known doses of radiation, the amount of radiation absorbed by the material may be found.
This is useful for ceramics, as it determines the date of firing, as well as for lava, or even sediments that were exposed to substantial sunlight. These crystalline solids are constantly subjected to ionizing radiation from their environment, which causes some energized electrons to become trapped in defects in the molecular crystal structure. An input of energy, such as heat, is required to free these trapped electrons. When a specimen is reheated, the trapped energy is released in the form of light thermoluminescence as the electrons escape. The amount of light produced is a specific and measurable phenomenon. Because this accumulation of trapped electrons begins with the formation of the crystal structure, thermoluminescence can date crystalline materials to their date of formation; for ceramics, this is the moment they are fired. The major source of error in establishing dates from thermoluminescence is a consequence of inaccurate measurements of the radiation acting on a specimen.
Functionality[ edit ] Natural crystalline materials contain imperfections: These imperfections lead to local humps and dips in the crystalline material's electric potential. Where there is a dip a so-called " electron trap" , a free electron may be attracted and trapped. The flux of ionizing radiation—both from cosmic radiation and from natural radioactivity —excites electrons from atoms in the crystal lattice into the conduction band where they can move freely. Most excited electrons will soon recombine with lattice ions, but some will be trapped, storing part of the energy of the radiation in the form of trapped electric charge Figure 1.
Tweet light electrons radiation sediment Thermoluminescence dating is very useful for determining the age of pottery. Electrons from quartz and other minerals in the pottery clay are bumped out of their normal positions ground state when the clay is exposed to radiation. This radiation may come from radioactive substances such as uranium , present in the clay or burial medium, or from cosmic radiation. The longer the exposure to the radiation, the more electrons that are bumped into an excited state, and the more light that is emitted upon heating. The process of displacing electrons begins again after the object cools.