How is carbon dating

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The clock was initially calibrated by dating objects of known age such as Egyptian mummies and bread from Pompeii; work that won Willard Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

But even he “realized that there probably would be variation”, says Christopher Bronk Ramsey, a geochronologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the latest work, published today in Science.

Archaeologists vehemently disagree over the effects changing climate and competition from recently arriving humans had on the Neanderthals' demise.

Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material — in effect, any living thing.

Carbon dating the Dead Sea Scrolls refers to a series of radiocarbon dating tests performed on the Dead Sea Scrolls, first by the AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) lab of the Zurich Institute of Technology in 1991 and then by the AMS Facility at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1994-95.

There was also a historical test of a piece of linen performed in 1950 by Willard Libby, the inventor of the dating method.

By measuring the ratio of the radio isotope to non-radioactive carbon, the amount of carbon-14 decay can be worked out, thereby giving an age for the specimen in question.

But that assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock.

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