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Radiocarbon Dating - Reliable but Misunderstood
Radiocarbon dating also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon , a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby , who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in It is based on the fact that radiocarbon 14 C is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14 C combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide , which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis ; animals then acquire 14 C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and thereafter the amount of 14 C it contains begins to decrease as the 14 C undergoes radioactive decay. Measuring the amount of 14 C in a sample from a dead plant or animal, such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone, provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.
The Reliability of Radiocarbon Dating
Radiocarbon dating—also known as carbon dating—is a technique used by archaeologists and historians to determine the age of organic material. It can theoretically be used to date anything that was alive any time during the last 60, years or so, including charcoal from ancient fires, wood used in construction or tools, cloth, bones, seeds, and leather. It cannot be applied to inorganic material such as stone tools or ceramic pottery. The technique is based on measuring the ratio of two isotopes of carbon. Carbon has an atomic number of 6, an atomic weight of
He assumed that the change in styles was an evolutionary one, and, if you could quantify that change, he surmised it might be used to indicate which cemeteries were older than others. Petrie's notions about Egyptology—and archaeology in general —were revolutionary. His worrying about where a pot came from, what period it dated to, and what that meant to the other objects buried with it was light-years away from the ideas represented in this photo dated to , in which "Egyptian pots" was considered enough information for the thinking man. Petrie was a scientific archaeologist, probably close to our first example. The seriation method works because object styles change over time; they always have and always will.