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. Fortunately, Willard Libby, a scientist who would later win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, developed the process known as radiocarbon dating in the late s.
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Seventy years ago, American chemist Willard Libby devised an ingenious method for dating organic materials. His technique, known as carbon dating, revolutionized the field of archaeology. Now researchers could accurately calculate the age of any object made of organic materials by observing how much of a certain form of carbon remained, and then calculating backwards to determine when the plant or animal that the material came from had died. An isotope is a form of an element with a certain number of neutrons, which are the subatomic particles found in the nucleus of an atom that have no charge. While the number of protons and electrons in an atom determine what element it is, the number of neutrons can vary widely between different atoms of the same element.
How archaeologists determine the date of ancient sites and artifacts
Radiocarbon dating is one of the best known archaeological dating techniques available to scientists, and the many people in the general public have at least heard of it. But there are many misconceptions about how radiocarbon works and how reliable a technique it is. Radiocarbon dating was invented in the s by the American chemist Willard F. Libby and a few of his students at the University of Chicago: in , he won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the invention.
The fieldwork is complete, and the results are in! Read the reports, explore the archives, and learn more about the amazing work we've done on some very special sites. This step-by-step course will guide you through what archaeologists do and how you can get involved! Archaeology isn't just for adults!