(U,Th)-He dating of Pleistocene carbonates: Analytical methods and age calculations

Jan D. Kramers, Tebogo V. Makhubela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The uranium-thorium-helium ((U,Th)-He) dating method applied to calcium carbonate speleothems holds much promise for constraining the timeline of hominin evolution, as well as for palaeoclimatology research beyond the range of U/Th disequilibrium dating. Technical problems are posed by often low U concentrations and the requirement that samples need to be individually removed from the ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) system after helium is extracted from them, to be then analyzed for U, Th content and U series disequilibrium. We describe a low-cost furnace with this capability, constructed from standard UHV components, as well as the methods for subsequent U/Th disequilibrium analysis using multicollector ICP mass spectrometry. We present analytical and numerical solutions to determine (U,Th)-He ages for four conditions that have been encountered: (1) for an age range in which the residual activity ratio (234U/238U) can still be resolved but not that of (230Th/234U) (up to about 3000 ka), (2) for an age range where neither can be resolved (unlimited), (3) for ages up to 1000 ka where both activity ratios may be resolvable, and (4) for cases where (234U/238U) and (230Th/234U) indicate ages < 200 ka but (U,Th)-He systematics point to much older ages. • Helium extraction is carried out using an in-house built vacuum furnace that allows for large sample sizes (20 to 100 mg) of powdered carbonate material wrapped in Cu foil. • U and Th are separated together using Eichrom UTEVA resin and their isotope abundances are measured together in a single 2-cycle dynamic run using the multicollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS). • (U,Th)-He ages are calculated using four methods that take into account the U/Th disequilibria.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101608
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • (U,Th)-He dating
  • - Helium extraction from carbonate samples with post-extraction sample retrieval.- U,Th isotope measurements in a 2-cycle dynamic measurement on a multicollector ICP-MS.- Numerical methods for (U,Th)-He age calculation with U/Th disequilibrium
  • Helium dating
  • Hominin evolution timeline
  • Speleothem dating
  • U/Th disequilibrium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Medical Laboratory Technology


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