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As time goes on, the ionizing radiation field around the material causes the trapped electrons to accumulate (Figure 2).
In the laboratory, the accumulated radiation dose can be measured, but this by itself is insufficient to determine the time since the zeroing event.
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Natural crystalline materials contain imperfections: impurity ions, stress dislocations, and other phenomena that disturb the regularity of the electric field that holds the atoms in the crystalline lattice together.
This leads to local humps and dips in its electric potential.
Thermoluminescence dating presupposes a "zeroing" event in the history of the material, either heating (in the case of pottery or lava) or exposure to sunlight (in the case of sediments), that removes the pre-existing trapped electrons.
Therefore, at that point the thermoluminescence signal is zero.
Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! As the material is heated during measurements, a weak light signal, the thermoluminescence, proportional to the radiation dose is produced.