Radiocarbon dating and archaeology

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The method was developed by physicist Willard Libby at the University of Chicago who received the Nobel Prize for the discovery in The radioactive isotope 14 C is created in the atmosphere by cosmic radiation and is taken up by plants and animals as long as they live. The C method cannot be used on material more than about 50, years old because of this short half-life. Other isotopes are used by geologists to date older material.
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Archaeological Dating: Stratigraphy and Seriation

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How has radiocarbon dating changed archaeology? | HowStuffWorks

Radiocarbon dating also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon , a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby , who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in It is based on the fact that radiocarbon 14 C is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14 C combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide , which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis ; animals then acquire 14 C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and thereafter the amount of 14 C it contains begins to decrease as the 14 C undergoes radioactive decay.
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As archaeologists we are used to studying time and placing the archaeological material we excavate into its correct sequence. The identification of material allows us to order the past into a relative sequence, and occasionally certain objects such as coins provide a good level of precision within the historic period. However, if we have no artefacts or are dealing with time before the historic period, we have several clever scientific techniques in our armoury — one of which is radiocarbon dating.
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Radiocarbon dating is set to become more accurate than ever after an international team of scientists improved the technique for assessing the age of historical objects. The team of researchers at the Universities of Sheffield, Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow, Oxford, St Andrews and Historic England, plus international colleagues, used measurements from almost 15, samples from objects dating back as far as 60, years ago, as part of a seven-year project. They used the measurements to create new international radiocarbon calibration IntCal curves, which are fundamental across the scientific spectrum for accurately dating artefacts and making predictions about the future. Radiocarbon dating is vital to fields such as archaeology and geoscience to date everything from the oldest modern human bones to historic climate patterns. Archaeologists can use that knowledge to restore historic monuments or study the demise of the Neanderthals, while geoscientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC , rely upon the curves to find out about what the climate was like in the past to better understand and prepare for future changes.
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