Micro-flotation removal of coal contaminants from archaeological radiocarbon samples from Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, USA

Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, Lewis A. Owen, Nicholas P. Dunning, Samantha G. Fladd, Katelyn J. Bishop, David L. Lentz, Venicia Slotten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Micro-flotation, a specific gravity separation technique, was successfully used to remove coal contaminants from radiocarbon samples obtained from profiles, unit excavations, and solid sediment cores in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, USA. Coal from the Cretaceous Menefee Formation occurs throughout Chaco Canyon in aeolian, alluvial, colluvial, and anthropogenic sediments. The Menefee Formation contains carbonized broadleaf angiosperm and gymnosperm plants and, as such, paleobotanical analysis was not effective in the identification and removal of coal contaminants. The effectiveness of micro-flotation as a pretreatment procedure was evaluated by: i) comparing AMS radiocarbon ages on processed and unprocessed samples from the same archaeological contexts; ii) comparing a processed sample of carbonized hardwood charcoal with a sample of uncarbonized hardwood from the same archaeological context; and iii) comparing radiocarbon ages on a split sample of processed bulk carbon. The comparisons confirmed the effectiveness of micro-flotation in processing samples for radiocarbon dating in Chaco Canyon and would be applicable for similar locations elsewhere in the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-73
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancestral Puebloan
  • Bulk carbon samples
  • Chaco Canyon
  • Coal
  • Contaminant
  • Micro-flotation
  • New Mexico
  • Radiocarbon samples
  • Sediment cores
  • Southwestern North America
  • Specific gravity separation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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