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Home > Press > Seashells inspire new way to preserve bones for archeologists, paleontologists

Preservation of ancient bones that help tell humanity’s story is improving thanks to science and seashells.
Credit: Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock
Preservation of ancient bones that help tell humanity’s story is improving thanks to science and seashells.

Credit: Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock

Abstract:
Recreating the story of humanity's past by studying ancient bones can hit a snag when they deteriorate, but scientists are now reporting an advance inspired by seashells that can better preserve valuable remains. Their findings, which appear in the ACS journal Langmuir, could have wide-ranging implications for both archeology and paleontology.

Seashells inspire new way to preserve bones for archeologists, paleontologists

Washington, DC | Posted on January 22nd, 2014

Luigi Dei and colleagues explain that a process similar to osteoporosis causes bones discovered at historically significant sites to become brittle and fragile — and in the process, lose clues to the culture they were once part of. Preserving them has proved challenging. Current techniques to harden and strengthen bones use vinyl and acrylic polymers. They act as a sort of glue, filling in cracks and holding fragments together, but they are not ideal. In an effort to stanch the loss of information due to damage, Dei's team set out to find a better way to preserve old bones.

The researchers turned to seashells for inspiration. Using skeletal fragments from the Late Middle Ages, they grew aragonite, a kind of lime that some sea animals produce to shore up their shells, on the bones in a controlled way. The treatment hardened the surfaces of the bones, as well as the pores inside them, making the ancient remains 50 to 70 percent sturdier. "These results could have immediate impact for preserving archeological and paleontological bone remains," the scientists conclude.

The authors acknowledge funding from Consorzio Interuniversitario per lo Sviluppo dei Sistemi a Grande Interfase (CSGI), Florence, Italy; the University of Florence; the TEMART Project funded by the European Fund for Regional Development; the Tuscany region; and the S.I.C.A.M.O.R. PAR-FAS Project Tuscany Region.

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About American Chemical Society
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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Contacts:
Luigi Dei, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry “Ugo Schiff” and CSGI Consortium
University of Florence
via della Lastruccia 3
50019 Sesto Fiorentino (FI)
Italy


General Inquiries:
Michael Bernstein

202-872-6042

Science Inquiries:
Katie Cottingham, Ph.D.

301-775-8455

Copyright © American Chemical Society

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DOWNLOAD ACS EDITORS' CHOICE ARTICLE - "Aragonite Crystals Grown on Bones by Reaction of CO2 with Nanostructured Ca(OH)2 in the Presence of Collagen. Implications in Archaeology and Paleontology”

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