Purpose of radioactive dating

In 1949, American chemist Willard Libby, who worked on the development of the atomic bomb, published the first set of radiocarbon dates.

His radiocarbon dating technique is the most important development in absolute dating in archaeology and remains the main tool for dating the past 50,000 years.

As long as there is organic material present, radiocarbon dating is a universal dating technique that can be applied anywhere in the world.

It is good for dating for the last 50,000 years to about 400 years ago and can create chronologies for areas that previously lacked calendars.

When it comes to dating archaeological samples, several timescale problems arise.

For example, Christian time counts the birth of Christ as the beginning, AD 1 (Anno Domini); everything that occurred before Christ is counted backwards from AD as BC (Before Christ).

Looking at the graph, 100% of radiocarbon in a sample will be reduced to 50% after 5730 years.

In recognition of this problem archaeologists have developed regional reservoir correction rates based on ocean bottom topography, water temperature, coastline shape and paired samples of terrestrial and marine objects found together in an archaeological feature such as a hearth.

Absolute dating represents the absolute age of the sample before the present.

Historical documents and calendars can be used to find such absolute dates; however, when working in a site without such documents, it is hard for absolute dates to be determined.

The extra neutrons in Carbon-14’s case make it radioactive (thus the term, radiocarbon).

Radiocarbon is produced in the upper atmosphere after Nitrogen-14 isotopes have been impacted by cosmic radiation.

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