Radiocarbon-based investigations into the authenticity of Mesoamerican artefacts in museum contexts


  • P. Erdil
  • M. Kuitems
  • M. Berger
  • M.W. Dee



Mesoamerica, pre-Columbian artefacts, radiocarbon dating, authentication, museum studies


In this article, radiocarbon dating has been used as a tool for investigating the authenticity of two Mesoamerican artefacts from the collection of the National Museum of World Cultures (Museum Volkenkunde), Leiden, the Netherlands. The first artefact is a ceremonial Aztec, possibly a tecpatl, knife, and it is presumed to date to 1300–1500 CE. The second object is a decorated Mixtec skull, presumed to date to 1400–1520 CE. The efficacy of radiocarbon dating was thoroughly tested in this study, especially in regard to the tiny quantities that could be sampled from the skull. However, with the newly revamped radiocarbon facility at the University of Groningen, this was an opportune moment to attempt such research.  Ultimately, a credible result could not be obtained on the skull; however, the ceremonial knife was dated reliably to the Aztec period. The article also discusses the broader issue of whether radiocarbon results can be used as a definitive proof of authenticity and examines the risk-reward nature of radiocarbon testing.

Author Biographies

P. Erdil

Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen & Centre for Isotope Research, University of Groningen.

M. Kuitems

Centre for Isotope Research, University of Groningen.

M. Berger

National Museum of World Cultures, Leiden & Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University.

M.W. Dee

Centre for Isotope Research, University of Groningen.