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Willard Libby and Radiocarbon Dating
This Portable C14 Device Will Revolutionise Field Archaeology | DigVentures
By: Jessika Toothman. Prior to the development of radiocarbon dating , it was difficult to tell when an archaeological artifact came from. Unless something was obviously attributable to a specific year -- say a dated coin or known piece of artwork -- then whoever discovered it had to do quite a bit of guesstimating to get a proper age for the item. The excavator might employ relative dating, using objects located stratigraphically read: buried at the same depth close to each other, or he or she might compare historical styles to see if there were similarities to a previous find. But by using these imprecise methods, archeologists were often way off.
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The Reliability of Radiocarbon Dating
Over time, carbon decays in predictable ways. And with the help of radiocarbon dating, researchers can use that decay as a kind of clock that allows them to peer into the past and determine absolute dates for everything from wood to food, pollen, poop, and even dead animals and humans. While plants are alive, they take in carbon through photosynthesis. Humans and other animals ingest the carbon through plant-based foods or by eating other animals that eat plants. Carbon is made up of three isotopes.
When news is announced on the discovery of an archaeological find, we often hear about how the age of the sample was determined using radiocarbon dating, otherwise simply known as carbon dating. Deemed the gold standard of archaeology, the method was developed in the late s and is based on the idea that radiocarbon carbon 14 is being constantly created in the atmosphere by cosmic rays which then combine with atmospheric oxygen to form CO2, which is then incorporated into plants during photosynthesis. When the plant or animal that consumed the foliage dies, it stops exchanging carbon with the environment and from there on in it is simply a case of measuring how much carbon 14 has been emitted, giving its age.