A simple and effective removal procedure of synthetic resins to obtain accurate radiocarbon dates of restored artworks

Research Area: Uncategorized Year: 2014
Type of Publication: Article
Journal: Radiocarbon Volume: 56
Number: 3 Pages: 969-979
cited By 0
The issue of contamination in radiocarbon dating is well known and can affect not only archaeological findings but also artworks. In the latter case, a possible source of contamination is represented by the products used during the restoration, e.g. resins of synthetic origin like the well-known Paraloid, applied to wood artifacts as a strengthening and preserving agent. In the case of incomplete removal prior to dating, the resins produce an apparent aging of the samples. Mechanical cleaning using traditional tools and the standard pretreatment acid-base-acid (ABA) protocol are not sufficient to remove such contaminants, while the use of organic solvents, in particular petroleum solvents and chlorine-based products, can be effective. However, the most widely used protocol, based on the Soxhlet extraction system, is very time consuming. Here, in the presence of chloroform-soluble applied products, like the widespread Paraloid B-72, this study proposes the use of a new easily operated pretreatment procedure, developed at INFN-LABEC in Florence, based on the use of chloroform (CHCl3) as solvent and on a simple extraction. First, the effectiveness of this procedure was checked by applying it to remove the resin from wood samples of known age, which had been previously intentionally contaminated by applying large quantities of Paraloid. 14C AMS measurements performed on the test samples before and after contamination and application of the proposed procedure proved its effectiveness for removal, while this was not the case when applying standard ABA protocols. Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy analyses also were used to check the removal of contaminants. The new procedure was applied in two case studies: the wood frame of an altar piece from the Renaissance and a painting on canvas from the early 20th century. For both artworks, the use of synthetic resins was documented in restorations performed a relatively long time ago: the wood frame was restored using just Paraloid, the canvas using a thermoplastic polymer soluble in chloroform. Enough time elapsed for the resins to create cross-linking bonds with the original material. Despite this, the results obtained by 14C AMS dating confirm the reliability of the new chloroform-based pretreatment in removing the contaminations. Also in these cases, spectroscopic techniques were used to compare the effectiveness of the ABA and the new treatments in removing the contaminants. © 2014 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona.
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