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Central to RHX is a new time1/4 law, discovered by the applicants, that defines precisely the rate at which fired clay ceramics gain weight over time.This effectively provides the material with an ''internal clock''.A ceramic can be returned to its 'as fired' state by reheating to remove the chemically combined water.The older the material, the greater the mass of water removed by reheating.Radiocarbon dating cannot be applied unless carbon containing inclusions or residues are present and thermoluminescence can be prohibitively complex.Hence, a new method for dating such material is extremely significant.The basis of RHX is that all fired clay ceramics start to gain weight (and expand) as soon as they are removed from the kiln.
This rehydroxylation reaction underlies (and causes) the well known moisture expansion of brick masonry and tile structures and the commonly observed crazing in glazed ceramics.
In a paper published by the Royal Society we presented proof of concept of this new method and compelling evidence that the age of ceramic samples up to 2000 y old can be estimated accurately from measurements of the slow progressive mass gain associated with the chemical recombination of water with the fired clay material. Pottery is an increasingly common find on archaeological sites from the last 10 000 y onwards and many site chronologies depend upon them.
However their dating still relies to a large extent on analysing stylistic changes.
Following reheating the chemical reaction between ceramic and atmospheric moisture begins again.
By monitoring the mass gain over several days we can determine the rate at which that particular material gains mass, and from this we calculate the time that it would take to replace the water removed by reheating. By the end of the project we aim to have demonstrated that RHX is a well-founded archaeological dating method, suitable for routine use.