Prescreening Hydraulic Lime-Binders for Disordered Calcite in Caesarea Maritima: Characterizing the Chemical Environment Using FTIR

Yotam Asscher, Aliza Van Zuiden, Chen Elimelech, Peter Gendelman, Uzi Ad, Jacob Sharvit, Michele Secco, Giulia Ricci, Gilberto Artioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Hydraulic lime binders are considered a technological marvel which revolutionized construction techniques in antiquity. The core material is made of a binder that is a mixture of calcite and hydraulic phases, which are amorphous silicate compounds that nanostructurally polymerize into insoluble phases that harden even underwater, formed during the reaction between lime and reactive silicates such as volcanic ash. This is also what makes hydraulic lime so hard to radiocarbon (14C) date. These insoluble phases contain carbonates that may set centuries following their application, resulting in younger ages, which may contaminate the calcite fraction that is favorable for 14C dating. This calcite fraction forms upon the incorporation of atmospheric carbon dioxide during the setting of the hydrated lime. Therefore, different characterization methods are being constantly developed for identifying and characterizing the components of hydraulic lime-binders. In this work, we present a rapid characterization technique based on Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) that characterizes the atomic disorder and chemical environment of the carbonates and silicates fractions in the binder. The atomic disorder of the calcite crystallites was determined by the ν2 and ν4 vibrational modes, and the silicates were characterized by the main peak asymmetry and full width at half maximum (FWHM). Different hydraulic binders from Caesarea Maritima were examined, including Herodian mortars from the underwater breakwater and on-land plasters and mortars from the ports warehouse and vaults. Hydraulic binders, in which the calcite fraction in the binder shows atomic disorder that is comparable to modern plaster binders, was associated with silicates that have asymmetry and FWHM of clays and quartz. These materials are considered to be in good preservation state for 14C dating since their carbonates crystallites are disordered and did not interact with the environment chemically to form stable and ordered crystals. Interestingly, the atomic disorder of binders that underwent chemical alterations and recrystallization processes, are associated with reactive silicates aggregates such as volcanic ash (pozzolana). These results suggest a new way to prescreen materials for radiocarbon dating based on the composition of lime-binders and preservation state of the carbonate fraction and hydraulic products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-543
Number of pages17
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • FTIR
  • atomic disorder
  • grinding curves
  • hydraulic lime-builders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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