Dr. Marvin W. Rowe, professor emeritus of chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been honored by "Archaeology" magazine for one of its "Top 10 Discoveries of 2010" for his development of a new radiocarbon dating technique that doesn't require damage to artifacts.

Rowe, a nuclear/analytical chemist with a background in petroleum engineering who currently is teaching at the university's branch campus in Qatar, has long studied rock paintings, or pictographs, which are among the most difficult archaeological artifacts to date due to their scarcity of organic material. In 2009 he developed a highly sensitive dating method using accelerator mass spectrometry that provides accurate radiocarbon dates with as little as 0.05 milligrams of carbon -- equivalent in weight to about 50 specks of dust. He spent the past year perfecting that process. The resulting two-step method involves first cleaning the sample with a supercritical fluid -- pressurized, slightly heated carbon dioxide -- a process sometimes used in commercial dry cleaning, then treating it with a low-temperature plasma. The sample emerges dated but undamaged, thereby opening up a veritable treasure trove of previously inaccessible cultural and historical study.

"There are some artifacts that simply are considered too valuable to take even very tiny amounts of material necessary for modern accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating," Rowe says. "With our technique, you could radiocarbon date those samples and not detect any change in the sample or loss at all."

To learn more about Rowe's top 10 discovery, go to http://www.archaeology.org/1101/topten/texas.html.

To see the complete list, visit http://www.archaeology.org/1101/topten/.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Marvin W. Rowe, (974) 423-0018 or marvin.rowe@qatar.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Marvin W. Rowe

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