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Controversy about carbon dating

controversy about carbon dating-1

We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].The person who wrote these words lived in the 1800s, many years before archaeologists could accurately date materials from archaeological sites using scientific methods.

Libby of the University of Chicago after the end of World War 2.The relative dating method worked very well, but only in sites which were had a connection to the relative scale. When radiocarbon dating was developed, it revolutionised archaeology, because it enabled them to more confidently date the past, and to build a more accurate picture of the human past.The archaeologist Colin Renfrew (1973) called it the development of this dating method 'the radiocarbon revolution' in describing its great impact upon the human sciences.In the 1940s, scientists succeeded in finding out how long it takes for radiocarbon to disappear, or decay, from a sample of carbon from a dead plant or animal.Willard Libby, the principal scientist, had worked in the team making the nuclear bomb during World War 2, so he was an expert in nuclear and atomic chemistry.It is called 'radio'-carbon, because it is 'radioactive'.

This means that its atomic structure is not stable and there is an uneasy relationship between the particles in the nucleus of the atom itself.

Carbon follows this pathway through the food chain on Earth so that all living things are using carbon, building their bodies until they die.

A tiny part of the carbon on the Earth is called Carbon-14 (C14), or radiocarbon.

The job of a radiocarbon laboratory is to measure the remaining amounts of radiocarbon in a carbon sample.

This is very difficult and requires a lot of careful work to produce reliable dates.

After the war he became very interested in peaceful applications of atomic science.