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This is commonly done by measurement of the alpha radioactivity (the uranium and thorium content) and the potassium content (K-40 is a beta and gamma emitter) of the sample material.Often the gamma radiation field at the position of the sample material is measured, or it may be calculated from the alpha radioactivity and potassium content of the sample environment, and the cosmic ray dose is added in.Its use is now common in the authentication of old ceramic wares, for which it gives the approximate date of the last firing.An example of this can be seen in Rink and Bartoll, 2005.Where there is a dip (a so-called "electron trap"), a free electron may be attracted and trapped.
Thermoluminescence dating is used for material where radiocarbon dating is not available, like sediments.
Another important technique in testing samples from a historic or archaeological site is a process known as Thermoluminescence testing, which involves a principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment.
This process frees electrons within elements or minerals that remain caught within the item.
Thermoluminescence emits a weak light signal that is proportional to the radiation dose absorbed by the material. The technique has wide application, and is relatively cheap at some US0–700 per object; ideally a number of samples are tested. The destruction of a relatively significant amount of sample material is necessary, which can be a limitation in the case of artworks.
The heating must have taken the object above 500° C, which covers most ceramics, although very high-fired porcelain creates other difficulties.