Fission tracks are zones of intense damage formed by the passage of fission fragments through a solid. Given that the spontaneous fission of 238U occurs at a known rate, the age of a mineral or glass can be calculated from the amount of uranium and number of spontaneous fission tracks it contains. Zircon and glass are the most suitable materials for dating archaeological samples and Quaternary deposits by the fission-track method. Zircon has been considered as the most desirable phase because of its high uranium content and superior track retention properties. However, the recent development of correction procedures for partial track fading in hydrated volcanic glass shards has considerably improved the status of glass in this respect.
Accurate and precise age estimates can be obtained on glass by use of the isothermal plateau fission-track (ITPFT) dating method. Correction for partial track fading is achieved by heating the natural sample and its irradiated aliquot for 30 days at 150°C. This grain-specific technique is particularly suited to the dating of fine-grained, distal tephra beds and will greatly facilitate development of detailed chronologies of tephra-bearing sedimentary sequences located far from volcanic centres.
Glass-ITPFT dating in conjunction with tephrochronological and magnetostratigraphic techniques together provide a formidable toolkit with which to tackle late Cenozoic stratigraphic problems. This point is illustrated by reference to studies in Alaska, Ethiopia and the Indian subcontinent.
KeywordsFission Track Glass Shard Tephra Layer Spontaneous Fission Bishop Tuff
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