Skip to content

Yeeess, but carbon date what?

The real Stone of Scone is in my pub and I will prove it, says landlord
Owner of one of Glasgow’s oldest bars is preparing to use carbon dating to stand up their claims a 335 lb rock is the original

What, exactly, is it that you’re going to carbon date?

The stone?

18 thoughts on “Yeeess, but carbon date what?”

  1. You can have calcium carbonate as the cementing agent in sandstone when it was laid down. So the answer “could” be about 340 million years.

  2. Ah a vaguely related question for metallurgists here.

    If I have a lump of metal, gold say, is it possible to derive its geographic origin ie where on Earth it was mined ? Or does refining sweep away any such traces ?

    I’d say that the answer is no, but I wonder if there are things like radioactive footprints in refined metals .

  3. Ores, definitely, yes. There’s a big database of where tantalum (and tungsten) ores come from as an attempt to stop that blood minerals thing. I’ve a spreadsheet of it around somewhere. You can tell which mine – down to 50 people bucket and spade artisanal mines – the ore comes from by looking at the residuals.

    Metals themselves not so much. Older refining techniques, yes. So those manillas that were melted down to make the Benin Bronzes, sure, track that back to those Rhineland copper mines. Bits of tin in Phoenician wrecks to Cornwall etc.

    Modern techniques and modern metals? Really not sure. Given that we can now measure to parts per trillion, not just ppb or ppm, I’d guess that it’s possible. The difficulty would be, I think, that there’s unlikely to be a database of what residuals there are – to ppb or ppt levels – from different modern day producers.

    I do know that it’s possible to tell Soviet derived rhenium from western processed by the residuals levels. But more accurately than that, not sure.

  4. Thanks Tim.

    Of course even 24 karat gold is only 99.99%
    There will always be a speck of dreck in there somewhere.

  5. @AndyF: From WIkipedia’s page on carbon dating:

    “the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to approximately 50,000 years ago”

  6. What, exactly, is it that you’re going to carbon date? The stone?

    They don’t need to do any of that. Just slam some Nigerian guy on the stone and crown him King of the Scots. If the stone screams, it’s the original Lia Fáil, if not, it’s a fraud.


  7. Puzzled old man in East Lindsey

    Ah, all this gives me an opportunity to seek enlightenment after years of frustration. I once read a story written in the 1920’s, and set just after the Russian Revolution in which crooks steal several pounds of platinum from the Russian Government, hoping to smuggle it out of Russia and into Britain disguised as one of the lead weights in the keel of their sailing yacht. So they make a mould of the selected weight, melt the lead in an iron pot, cut the platinum (which is in thin sheets) into strips with tin-snips and throw them in. When the casting cools off, they replace it in its original spot. deep-six the mould, pass a search by suspicious Russian Customs, and sail off rejoicing.
    All goes well, they go through British Customs and moor in some dodgy dock in the East End where they take the casting to the premises of one of the gang – handily, a plumber by trade – who has all the gear for melting lead. So they melt the casting and discover, to their consternation, that the platinum has disappeared. Collapse of stout parties all round!
    I would have written this off as the author’s ignorance (even I know that Platinum has a much higher melting point than Lead, and I believe it’s much heavier, too) except that i have a feeling the tale was one by Dr.R. Austin Freeman. Doctor of Medicine and Scientist, whose many stories drew heavily on the science know at his time.
    So is this tale feasible? I put it before our genial host with his matchless knowledge of obscure metallurgy, and the many polymaths who grace this site.

  8. *Thinks*

    Carbon-dating the stone is silly, but it’s not impossible to track the origin of the stone, and more or less where it’s been.
    Sort of the same thing they did with the Turin Shroud. “Bit of work”, but do-able if peeps are so gung-ho about finding out.

    There’s the composition of the stone itself, which is more or less a fingerprint for the area it came from.
    It’s how it was proven that late Neanderthals/early modern humans did trade, or went quite a ways to get the Good Stuff, and knew where it was. Flint and stone tools with the origin rock in the Caucasus being found in France and Spain and all that.

    And sandstone is porous.. If it’s the stone that’s been in London for centuries it’ll have accumulated spores, moulds, and soot in places where the sun don’t shine and normal cleaning doesn’t reach.
    If it’s a likely rock they picked up from somewhere all that microscopic stuff will be different.
    Tricky and invasive, but there’s various techniques used in archeology to do just that.
    And in the art/antiques world to spot fakes..

    Then again… You’ll never convince the Myffologists.

  9. Yeah, I don’t know how you could conclusively prove it. But the story is true: the conspirators did take the stone to the Arlington in 1950. Or, at any rate, they took a stone there. My guess is that they were so embarrased at breaking the real one that they procured a fake to show off to their mates.

  10. @ Puzzled

    “On heating, platinum combines directly with elemental phosphorus, silicon, lead, arsenic, antimony, sulfur, and selenium,”
    Berkeley Uni course material.

    The platinum dissolved into the lead when they melted the stuff.

  11. No longer puzzled old man in East Lindsey.y


    Many thanks. So Dr. Freeman wasn’t talking through his hat. The denouement of is tale was very funny, with these chaps sitting around scratching their heads about where the platinum had gone!
    Don’t suppose it could recovered, either.

  12. Recovery would be possible, yes. I think this is what is called a “eutectic” allow and they can be separated. Usually though some form of EW, cathode, anode, acid tank thing. That’s the way you get the tin out of lead solder I think…..

  13. Indeed.. Acid and electrolysis.

    Lead dissolves a lot easier than platinum in acid. Notoriously so, so the acid doesn’t even need to be that strong or particular.
    Takes a lot of work though, and several passes to get to the point where you can “bake out” the remaining lead fraction using the fact that platinum’s melting point is close to lead’s boiling point.

    I’ve learned how to do it at Uni as part of the old-fashioned “you should be able to manufacture your own basic lab equipment” thing that was still a Thing then.
    Glass blowing, ceramics, tool making, and precious metal recovery like this was an optional course. Pretty basic, but good enough to know the principles and to know when someone’s trying to pull a fast one on you regarding quality and specs..

    Never done more than lab quantities though. Doing a bulk job like that… Tricksy..
    And not cheap if it has to be done on the down-low. Definitely not cheap..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *