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Seashells inspire new way to preserve bones for archaeologists

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 archaeology and palaeontology.

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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 archaeological and palaeontological bone remains,” the scientists conclude.

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Contributing Source : American Chemical Society

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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