Carbon 14 or radiocarbon dating

Some of the first radiocarbon dates produced showed that the Scottish tombs were thousands of years older than those in Greece.The barbarians of the north were capable of designing complex structures similar to those in the classical world.The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of C, making it incredibly difficult to measure and extremely sensitive to contamination.In the early years of radiocarbon dating a product’s decay was measured, but this required huge samples (e.g. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS), a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual C atoms in a sample.In 2008 we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26,000 years.Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.

A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.These new techniques can have a dramatic effect on chronologies.With the development of a new method of cleaning charcoal called ABOx-SC, Michael Bird helped to push back the date of arrival of the first humans in Australia by more than 10,000 years.This method requires less than 1g of bone, but few countries can afford more than one or two AMSs, which cost more than A0,000.Australia has two machines dedicated to radiocarbon analysis, and they are out of reach for much of the developing world.

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