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JPT Nº19

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The elemental composition of fossils can be ana-lyzed to produce detailed information about the past. Elemental composition can provide infor-mation on fossil provenance, environmental and atmospheric conditions during deposition, and ecological and trophic information about various organisms.

There are several techniques for analyzing the elemental composition of fossils: X-ray fluores-cence, neutron activation analysis, and various mass spectroscopy and chemical techniques. Most of these techniques are inherently destruc-tive, while others are destructive for practical applications, such that samples need to be ground into a fine powder for bulk analysis of larger samples. Paleontology relies on the phys-ical characteristics in addition to the elemental composition; thus, a non-destructive, or at least non-invasive, alternative is needed for analyzing the elemental composition of fossils without do-ing harm to this limited and valuable resource. Due to this requirement, samples cannot be al-tered to create more uniform geometries for analysis. Internal monitors, which provide more accurate measurements in activation analysis techniques, also cannot be used.

Photon activation analysis (PAA) is a reliable technique that has been shown, in certain appli-cations, to be non-destructive and useful. This study focused on the utility of PAA for determi-nation of stratigraphic and geographic provenance of fossils. Provenance determination is important for many reasons. Many fossils are collected illegally from Federal land. It would be useful to develop a reliable method to determine provenance of fossils and determine if they were illegally obtained. Museum collections also con-tain many unidentified fossils. This is due to the lack of standardized collection procedures in the past, as well as the collection and donation of fossils by amateur collectors. Reliable prove-nance determination would allow these unidentified fossils to be properly matched to similar fossils in collections. Finally, PAA could al-low for correlation of geological formations. PAA may be able to determine the stratigraphic origin of a fossil with more precision, which would cre-ate better stratigraphic and temporal resolution.


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