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To put it simply, certain minerals (quartz, feldspar, and calcite), store energy from the sun at a known rate.
This energy is lodged in the imperfect lattices of the mineral's crystals.
Artifacts which can be dated using these methods include ceramics, burned lithics, burned bricks and soil from hearths (TL), and unburned stone surfaces that were exposed to light and then buried (OSL).
Thermoluminescence was first clearly described in a paper presented to the Royal Society (of Britain) in 1663, by Robert Boyle, who described the effect in a diamond which had been warmed to body temperature.
One major source of error is the external dose rate, which contributes to a varying degree to the denominator of the age formula and thus has a varying influence on the dating result.
The intention of this paper is to enable the user to evaluate TL age determinations of heated flint.
Heating these crystals (such as when a pottery vessel is fired or when rocks are heated) empties the stored energy, after which time the mineral begins absorbing energy again.
TL dating is a matter of comparing the energy stored in a crystal to what "ought" to be there, thereby coming up with a date-of-last-heated.
But when the rock is exposed to high enough levels of heat or light, that exposure causes vibrations in the mineral lattices and the trapped electrons are freed.