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Non-Destructive Photon Activation Analysis in Paleontology
1  South Dakota School of Mines and Technology


Paleontological samples are rare and non-renewable, which makes their study require non-destructive methods. Of interest to paleontologists are both the physical and chemical characteristics. Physical characteristics are routinely studied with non-destructive methods; however, chemical studies tend to require destructive methods unless samples are very small or only the surface compositions are of interest. One potential technique for non-destructive elemental analysis is photon activation analysis (PAA). PAA is a versatile, broad-spectrum, multi-element analysis tool with low sensitivities, capable of analyzing large samples without any alteration, preserving the physical characteristics.

Recent work has applied PAA to fossils and their source matrices in an attempt to correlate provenance through trace element analysis. PAA was shown to be non-consumptive and able to identify 20+ elements in samples with sub-ppm sensitivities. From that work, several lessons were learned and the non-destructivity of the technique was better characterized. PAA doesn’t have one standardized methodology, as it varies depending on the sample type. As such, from the lessons learned from the previous research, a standard method of applying PAA non-destructively to paleontological samples has been developed and will be presented in the following paper.

Keywords: non-destructive; paleontology; elemental analysis; photon activation analysis; trace element