Carbon 14 dating archaeology

In order to obtain a radiocarbon date, the amount of remaining Carbon-14 atoms in a sample are measured.

The less Carbon-14 that is left, the older the sample.

“Reservoir age” is the difference between the true age and the Carbon-14 date.

The effect, highlighted by the erroneous date from the carbonised residue on Sönkes’ ceramic sherd, persuaded The AMS 14C Dating Centre at Aarhus University in Denmark that they needed to carry out further investigations.

Willard Libby (1908–1980), a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, began the research that led him to radiocarbon dating in 1945.

He was inspired by physicist Serge Korff (1906–1989) of New York University, who in 1939 discovered that neutrons were produced during the bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays.

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There are three forms of carbon that naturally occur forming the building blocks of all plant and animal life.

Known as radiocarbon dating, this method provides objective age estimates for carbon-based objects that originated from living organisms.

The “radiocarbon revolution” made possible by Libby’s discovery greatly benefitted the fields of archaeology and geology by allowing practitioners to develop more precise historical chronologies across geography and cultures.

However its application has caused extreme confusion and misunderstanding of the archaeological record.

Knowing the limitations of this dating method can help avoid colossal archaeological misinterpretations that would otherwise distort history.

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