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In order to relate the signal (the thermoluminescence—light produced when the material is heated) to the radiation dose that caused it, it is necessary to calibrate the material with known doses of radiation since the density of traps is highly variable.
Thermoluminescence dating presupposes a "zeroing" event in the history of the material, either heating (in the case of pottery or lava) or exposure to sunlight (in the case of sediments), that removes the pre-existing trapped electrons.
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.
In the process of recombining with a lattice ion, they lose energy and emit photons (light quanta), detectable in the laboratory.
The amount of light produced is proportional to the number of trapped electrons that have been freed which is in turn proportional to the radiation dose accumulated.
Where there is a dip (a so-called "electron trap"), a free electron may be attracted and trapped.
The flux of ionizing radiation—both from cosmic radiation and from natural radioactivity—excites electrons from atoms in the crystal lattice into the conduction band where they can move freely.
The clay core of bronze sculptures made by lost wax casting can also be tested.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.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.
Thermoluminescence dating was modified for use as a passive sand migration analysis tool by Keizars, et al., 2008 (Figure 3), demonstrating the direct consequences resulting from the improper replenishment of starving beaches using fine sands, as well as providing a passive method of policing sand replenishment and observing riverine or other sand inputs along shorelines (Figure 4).