Carbon dating study
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But the method had one major flaw: it didn’t account for changes in the proportion of radioactive and non-radioactive carbon in the environment; and if these had changed, the estimate would most likely be wrong.Many events can affect the levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, such as the burning of fossil fuel or the detonation of an atom bomb.
Before that, all traces of radiocarbon would be too small to detect.In addition to permitting more accurate dating within archaeological sites than previous methods, it allows comparison of dates of events across great distances.Histories of archaeology often refer to its impact as the "radiocarbon revolution".The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years.“[It] traces its link to atmospheric circulation systems such as the Asian monsoon.” The new finding is important because it aligns with rising concern about the reliability of carbon dating, said Professor Liu Jinyi, specimen curator with the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing.
"Many alternative methods to date objects are now available, but carbon dating is still the most popular because we have used it for a long time with such ease and comfort," said Liu, who was not involved in the study.
Measurement of radiocarbon was originally done by beta-counting devices, which counted the amount of beta radiation emitted by decaying atoms in the sample and not just the few that happen to decay during the measurements; it can therefore be used with much smaller samples (as small as individual plant seeds), and gives results much more quickly.
The development of radiocarbon dating has had a profound impact on archaeology.
The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.
The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.
"The radiocarbon dating technique may significantly underestimate the age of sediment for samples older than 30,000 years,” said the authors of the report from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics.