Radiocarbon dating is a key tool archaeologists use to determine the age of plants and objects made with organic material. But new research shows that commonly accepted radiocarbon dating standards can miss the mark -- calling into question historical timelines. Archaeologist Sturt Manning and colleagues have revealed variations in the radiocarbon cycle at certain periods of time, affecting frequently cited standards used in archaeological and historical research relevant to the southern Levant region, which includes Israel, southern Jordan and Egypt. These variations, or offsets, of up to 20 years in the calibration of precise radiocarbon dating could be related to climatic conditions.
‘Perhaps the most important isotope’: how carbon-14 revolutionised science
Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work?
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.
Inaccuracies in radiocarbon dating
All rights reserved. Professor Willard Libby, a chemist at the University of Chicago, first proposed the idea of radiocarbon dating in Three years later, Libby proved his hypothesis correct when he accurately dated a series of objects with already-known ages. Over time, carbon decays in predictable ways.
M artin Kamen had worked for three days and three nights without sleep. The US chemist was finishing off a project in which he and a colleague, Sam Ruben, had bombarded a piece of graphite with subatomic particles. The aim of their work was to create new forms of carbon, ones that might have practical uses. Exhausted, Kamen staggered out of his laboratory at Berkeley in California, having finished off the project in the early hours of 27 February