Sunday, April 8, 2012

Every story has a beginning VI

It’s been a while since my last update. It’s no excuse for keeping you hanging for so long, but things have picked up pace in the last few weeks. It looks like May will be the big month, when we will present our research to the commission and can request a grant to complete it. The final date is yet to be confirmed, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can. Once we’ve presented our work, along with the evidence that we’ve gathered over the years, I’ll finally be able to share everything with you. I can’t wait for you to join me on our journey of discovery. But before that, I’d like to continue the story of how all this began.

Main building of the NTNU complex

As I described in the last post of Hyperborea Exists, our expedition for Nordic Communications returned on 12 July 2000. We flew back from Iceland, leaving the Blue Sea behind where it would be moored for maintenance. We went to the NTNU in Trondheim, bringing the remains we had discovered with us in carefully sealed containers to prevent environmental contamination. As I explained earlier, there had only been a small microscope on board the Blue Sea. We hoped that our specialist colleagues at the NTNU would be able to unearth some clues about the type of wreck we had found and its age.

There were two particular samples that interested us: one was a strange metal and the other a type of reinforced wood that we had never seen before. Both contained rock and fossilized materials. We hoped to find some type of organic fossilized matter that could be used to run carbon dating tests and discover the precise age of the remains.

In case you aren’t aware, there are two main methods for discovering the age of a sample. The first is carbon-14 dating, which can only be used on organic compounds or the ones containing carbon. The second is potassium-argon dating, but unfortunately this is only useful in areas close to a volcanic eruption.

The NTNU laboratory set to work on the wood fragment we brought back from our expedition. First, it had to be treated. This is a highly complex and laborious process; great care must be taken to ensure the sample isn’t contaminated. The slightest error can change the results of a carbon dating test, invalidating it. We therefore took the utmost care to follow every protocol; the sample was in one piece and untampered when the carbon dating test was run.

If you would like to read more about carbon dating tests, here is a brief description from Wikipedia:

   “Radiocarbon dating is the most reliable isotope-based technique for determining the age of organic samples that are less than 60,000 years old. It is based on the law of exponential decay of radioactive isotopes. Carbon-14 isotope (14C) is continuously produced in the atmosphere as a result of nitrogen atoms being bombarded by cosmic neutrons. The isotope created is unstable and therefore spontaneously transmutes into nitrogen-14 (14N). The processes of generation and decay of 14C are practically balanced so that the isotope is homogeneously mixed with non-radioactive atoms among the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Photosynthesis incorporates the radioactive atoms into plants so that the proportion of 14C-12C in these plants is similar to that of the atmosphere. Animals ingest carbon from plants. When a living organism dies, no new 14C atoms are incorporated into the tissue and the isotope concentration starts to decrease as it converts into 14N by radioactive decay.

   The mass of isotope 14C in any species decays exponentially: 5,730 years after the death of a living being, the amount of 14C in its remains halves. Therefore, when the amount of radioactivity in an organic sample is measured, the amount of 14C still remaining in the material can be calculated. This information is used to determine the moment when the organism died. This is known as its ‘radiocarbon age’ or ‘14C’ age’ and is expressed in years BP (Before Present). This scale matches the number of years since the death of the sample up to 1950 in our calendar. This date was chosen as the reference year partly by agreement and also because in the second half of the 20th century, nuclear testing led to severe anomalies in relative concentration curves of radioactive isotopes in the atmosphere.

Infographic that explains the dating process by Carbon-14

 When the theoretical concentration of 14C was compared with wood samples with known ages via dendrochronology, the results were different from those expected. These differences were due to the fact that the concentration of radiocarbon in the atmosphere has also changed over time. Today it is possible to work out precisely (margin of error: 1-10 years) the evolution of 14C concentration over the past 15,000 years. Age estimates can therefore be corrected by comparing them with curves obtained by interpolating known data. The resulting age is known as the ‘calibrated age’ and is expressed in years Cal BP.”

While we waited for the results, we focused on the metal sample we had managed to extract from the remains. We were definitely dealing with an alloy that had never been found in any shipwreck or archaeological site before. We called various metal experts and they all agreed: it was entirely unknown. Further tests would be needed with a spectrometer to determine its exact composition. All we knew for sure was that it was a hard, resistant metal. The truth was that the more we tried to study the sample in depth, the more confused we became.

On one hand we were convinced that it must be truly ancient, between a thousand and two thousand years old. On the other, the metal was too complex. It couldn’t have been made using the technology available two thousand years ago. Not even with the techniques that existed a few centuries ago. We didn’t know what to think. Had we found the remains of an ancient Viking Drakkar, or something far more modern that had us barking up the wrong tree?

Carousel of samples for Carbon-14 dating.
Our hopes rested on the results of the carbon dating test. When the results came through, they left us reeling. As I explained above, carbon-14 dating is used to determine the age of organic substances that are up to 60,000 years old. It includes a specific error margin and a way of compensating for this error. Well, the problem with the results was that our sample appeared to be approximately 60,000 years old. It was at the limit of the analysable range. We asked them to repeat the test but laboratory confirmed that they it had already been run three times. There were no mistakes.

Was this one of the most important archaeological finds in history? The implications were mind-blowing. Or was it just a mistake? Or some kind of joke? One thing was certain. Our superiors at the NTNU were going to be highly sceptical of our findings. But I’ll share that part of the story with you in my next update. I’ll write again very soon.

Thanks again for your on-going support. We’re getting closer and closer to revealing the truth. All I ask is that you have a little more patience. I can’t wait to share all my material with you and I promise I will as soon as the time comes. Followers of Hyperborea Exists, I’ll be back soon.

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