Roped off… Until now.

Xavier Leenders's blog | Created 7 years ago

How old is the Rope?

Written by Xavier Leenders 

Section of Egyptian Rope donated in 1976 by H. W. Rumbold

Section of Egyptian Rope. Can you guess the age? We promise, no strings attached!
Image copyright WA Museum 

Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the museum and rope? Or perhaps ‘knot’?

Here at the Anthropology and Archaeology Department, we are planning on carbon dating a section of Egyptian rope held in our collections that was found during World War II near Cairo (1944).

For anyone unfamiliar with the process of carbon dating, it involves using the natural decay of the carbon-14 isotope (present in every living organism) to infer the age of a carbon based object. Since the rope is composed of plant material, we can measure its age through the amount of carbon-14 it still contains.

Photographing the rope before we remove some fibers for analysis.

For conservation purposes, we first photograph the rope at a high resolution using the museums Hasselblad.
Image copyright WA Museum 

When the rope was first donated to the WA Museum in 1976 by H. W. Rumbold, carbon dating technology would have required the destruction of a large percentage of the rope, and so was judged inappropriate. Since then, we’ve been ‘all tied up’ in other matters, and I’m a’frayed’ the rope dating project was put to the sidelines.

However, with recent advances in scientific dating, it is now possible to get an AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) date that would require the destruction of less than a gram of the material! We’ll be sending the rope off at the end of this month and should receive the results later in the year.

Until then, watch this space!