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Radiocarbon dating application to modern musical instruments: an interdisciplinary study


International audience Relics dating: why not follow the example of dating of modern music instrument, combining the sharpest 14C technology and independent expertise?Dating historical relics partly meets the same issue than dating modern music instruments dated between the 16th and 19th century. For both woody relics and music instrument, dendrochronology might not be carried out due to a too short tree-rings record and 14C dating might a priori be ignored for historical periods as a 14C physical measurement might result into several equiprobable age ranges. Several samplings and independent expertise are then required to make a well-considered choice between these intervals. Owing to the new generation of 14C dating instruments, sampling without affecting the instrument or relics integrity is now possible. The interdisciplinary framework allows combining any ante quem or post quem information on the age of relics or music instruments. To illustrate this approach, we will draw on an on-going project of modern music instruments gathering radiocarbon dating specialists and the museum curators. Our goal is to deepen the scientific knowledge about the origin and the long history of use and restoration of instruments kept at the Musée de la musique. As an example, an Indian rudra-vina (E.997.24.1) was dated from the end of the 17th century. Transcription of 14C activity measured on two sub-samples yields four equiprobable calibrated date ranges. The comparison with a Govardhan’s picturial representation of a similar rudra-vina allows to determine the most likely date range: [AD 1650-1683]. Likewise, a second example comes from a stringed Hindustani instrument named kinnari-veena. It was supposedly dated from the 18th century according to Musée's curators because of its organological features. The dating, based on 7 sub-samples, has brought to light a very likely restoration of the upper-nut whereas all other components are contemporaneous of the instrument manufacturing. The results obtained allow to reveal additions or changes (successive layers of history) since they emerged from the instrument factories. The relics made of wood, bones or textile can also take benefit of such a multidisciplinary approach already applied on music instruments with composite constitutions.

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