Mortar is a workable paste which hardens to bind building blocks such as stones, bricks, and concrete masonry units, to fill and seal the irregular gaps between them, spread the weight of them evenly, and sometimes to add decorative colors or patterns to masonry walls. In its broadest sense, mortar includes pitch, asphalt, and soft mud or clay, as used between mud bricks. The word "mortar" comes from Latin mortarium, meaning crushed.
Cement mortar becomes hard when it cures, resulting in a rigid aggregate structure; however, the mortar functions as a weaker component than the building blocks and serves as the sacrificial element in the masonry, because mortar is easier and less expensive to repair than the building blocks. Bricklayers typically make mortars using a mixture of sand, a binder, and water. The most common binder since the early 20th century is Portland cement, but the ancient binder lime mortar is still used in some specialty new construction. Lime, lime mortar and gypsum in the form of plaster of Paris are used particularly in the repair and repointing of historic buildings and structures so that the repair materials will be similar in performance and appearance to the original materials. Several types of cement mortars and additives exist.
As the mortar hardens, the current atmosphere is encased in the mortar and thus provides a sample for analysis. Various factors affect the sample and raise the margin of error for the analysis. The possibility to use radiocarbon dating as a tool for mortar dating was introduced as early as the 1960s, soon after the method was established (Delibrias and Labeyrie 1964; Stuiver and Smith 1965; Folk and Valastro 1976). The very first data were provided by van Strydonck et al. (1983), Heinemeier et al.(1997) and Ringbom and Remmer (1995). Methodological aspects were further developed by different groups (an international team headed by Åbo Akademi University, and teams from CIRCE, CIRCe, ETHZ, Poznań, RICH and Milano-Bicocca laboratory. To evaluate the different anthropogenic carbon extraction methods for radiocarbon dating as well as to compare the different dating methods, i.e. radiocarbon and OSL, the first intercomparison study (MODIS) was set up and published in 2017.