We compare the magnetic properties of pure and oxidized Co nanoparticles embedded in an amorphous Al2O3 matrix. Nanoparticles with diameters of 2 or 3 nm were prepared by alternate pulsed laser deposition in high vacuum conditions, and some of them were exposed to O-2 after production and before being embedded. The nanoparticles are organized in layers, the effective edge-to-edge in-depth separation being 5 or 10 nm. The lower saturation magnetizations per Co atom for the samples containing oxidized nanoparticles provide evidence for the formation of antiferromagnetic CoO shells in the nanoparticles. None of the samples with Co/CoO nanoparticles show exchange bias, while vertical hysteresis loop shifts and enhanced coercivities (as compared to samples with pure Co nanoparticles) are observed. This constitutes evidence for the nanoparticles size being in all cases smaller than the critical size for exchange bias. The difference in coercivity versus temperature dependences for the samples with pure and oxidized Co nanoparticles shows that the exchange anisotropy in Co/CoO nanoparticles appears at temperatures lower than 50 K. (c) 2007 American Institute of Physics.