A new method for enamel amino acid racemization dating: A closed system approach

Marc R. Dickinson*, Adrian M. Lister, Kirsty E.H. Penkman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Analysis: of the predictable breakdown of proteins and amino acids in ancient biominerals enables age estimation over the Quaternary. We postulate that enamel is a suitable biomineral for the long-term survival of endogenous amino acids. Analysis of multiple amino acids for geochronological studies is typically achieved using a RP-HPLC method. However, the low concentrations of amino acids coupled with high concentrations of inorganic species make accurate determination of amino concentrations challenging. We have developed a method for the routine preparation of multiple enamel samples using biphasic separation. Furthermore, we have shown that amino acids that exhibit effectively closed system behaviour can be isolated from enamel through an exposure time of 72 h to bleach. Elevated temperature experiments investigating the processes of intra-crystalline protein degradation (IcPD) do not appear to match the patterns from fossil samples, reinforcing the need for a comprehensive understanding of the underlying mechanisms of protein degradation. This novel preparative method isolates intra-crystalline amino acids suitable for the development of mammalian geochronologies based on enamel protein degradation. The lower rates of racemization in enamel (cf. Bithynia opercula) suggest that the enamel AAR may be able to be used as a relative dating technique over time scales >2.8 Ma. Enamel AAR has the potential to directly date mammalian remains past the limit of all other current direct dating methods, providing an invaluable tool for geochronological studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-46
Number of pages18
JournalQuaternary Geochronology
Early online date17 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

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  • Amino acid racemization
  • Biphasic separation
  • Closed system
  • Enamel
  • Geochronology
  • IcPD

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