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With so many caveats, I might be tempted to give up on the project.

Undaunted, Desaulty’s team first figured out how to use a recently improved technology to distinguish silver isotopes (which is incidentally called Multi-Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry, oh yes! And then they combined these silver results with their copper and lead isotope measurements.

Of course there are some ways around the problem: For example, if an iron artifact has some charcoal on it because the artifact was, for example, used as a pot, then you can do radiocarbon dating on the charcoal. So Doménech-Carbó and his colleagues developed a technique called voltammetry to measure the age of metal artifacts containing lead–which is a heck of a lot of artifacts since lead was used widely in antiquity.

For example, “lead was produced for fishing nets, anchors and sling bullets, fastening iron clamps in the walls of buildings, water pipes, jewelry and cult figures,” Doménech-Carbó notes.

It turns out that figuring out the age of a metal is hard; there aren’t many scientific options for dating many archaeological artifacts made of copper, iron, tin, gold or lead, according to Antonio Doménech-Carbó, an analytical chemist at the University of Valencia, in Spain.Unfortunately for this inflation controversy, different silver isotopes are really hard to tell apart analytically. Instead researchers could try comparing isotopes of lead, which is another element present in silver ores and is thus is also found–in trace amounts–in silver coins.Except unfortunately lead isotope ratios are quite similar in Europe and the Americas—a tad too similar to conclusively distinguish the provenance of coins through lead isotopes alone.Find some coins used Western Europe during this inflation era. Check their chemical make-up to see if they originated from mines in Europe or mines in the Americas.If the metal originated in the Americas then it would be safe to blame Europe’s inflation on Spain’s accumulation and distribution of silver from the colonies.

Carbon dating not useful artifacts made metal