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Journal Articles Radiocarbon Year : 2019

Thermal decomposition of lead white for radiocarbon dating of paintings


Lead carbonates were used as cosmetic and pigment since Antiquity. The pigment, known as lead white, was generally composed of cerussite and hydrocerussite. Unlike most ancient pigments, lead white was obtained by a synthetic route involving metallic lead, vinegar and organic matter. Fermentation of organic matter produces heat and CO2 emission, leading to the formation of carbonates. As lead white is formed by trapping CO2, radiocarbon (14C) dating can thus be considered. We have developed a protocol to prepare lead white. We selected modern pigments for the experiment implementation and ancient cosmetic and paintings for dating. After characterization of the samples by XRD, thermal decomposition of cerussite at various temperatures was explored in order to select the appropriate conditions for painting samples. CO2 extraction yield, SEM and XPS were used to characterize the process. Thermal decomposition at 400°C was successfully applied to mixtures of lead white with other paint components (oil as binder, calcite as filler/extender) and to historical samples. We obtained radiocarbon measurements in agreement with the expected dates, demonstrating that thermal decomposition at 400°C is efficient for a selective decomposition of lead white and that paintings can be directly 14C-dated by dating lead white pigment.
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Dates and versions

cea-02183134 , version 1 (15-06-2021)



Lucile Beck, Cyrielle Messager, Stéphanie Coelho, Ingrid Caffy, Emmanuelle Delque-Količ, et al.. Thermal decomposition of lead white for radiocarbon dating of paintings. Radiocarbon, 2019, 61, pp.1345-1356. ⟨10.1017/RDC.2019.64⟩. ⟨cea-02183134⟩
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