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One of the biggest factors in throwing off carbon dates is the fact that nuclear testing, which began around 1950, “blasted out radiation [into the atmosphere] that scientists see clearly as a spike in the radiocarbon record” (ibid.).
Most problematic in absorbing this spike in radiation has been charcoal, which scientists use frequently in their dating of ancient finds.
Carbon dating determines the age of archaeological objects, or how long ago a creature died, by measuring the amount of Carbon -14 remaining inside.
The method is based on the theory that every living organism contains a small but constant proportion of this radioactive carbon isotope.
Radiocarbon dating is based on the fact that carbon-14 (an isotope of the extremely common element carbon) decays into another carbon isotope, carbon-12, at an exact rate.
By measuring the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12, experts can determine the age of something that dates from ancient times.
Gihon Spring was crucial to the survival of its inhabitants, and archaeologists had uncovered the remains of a massive stone tower built to guard this vital water supply. In a new paper, the authors explain how harvesting data from tree-rings could revolutionize the study of ancient civilizations such as the Egyptian and Mayan worlds. Researchers have used radiocarbon measured in deep-sea fossil corals to shed light on carbon dioxide levels during Earth's last deglaciation.
Fossil corals have the unique advantage that they ...
These methods invariably give a great age for the ancient item in question.
By knowing the half-life of C-14 and estimating how many C-14 atoms the organism contained before it died, we can calculate the age of an object or creature at time of death.
Radio-carbon dating can only be effectively used on materials which once formed part of a living organism, which means that materials such as stone and metal can’t usually be directly dated in this way.
Both phenomena are known to influence radiocarbon amounts by altering the level of cosmic radiation entering the atmosphere (ibid.).
The uncertainties surrounding science’s most popular dating method underscores how cautious scientists must be before setting in stone any date for an artifact or fossil. Gillespie, “Although 26,000 [years ago, according to modern dating assumptions] is pretty well nailed down now, there’s a sort of best guess for what comes after that” (ibid.).