Carbon Dating

English: The physics of decay and origin of ca...
The physics of decay and origin of carbon 14 for the radiocarbon dating (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carbon dating is a scientific method for trying to determine the age of organically based archaeological discoveries.

The process hinges on measuring the radioactive isotope (carbon-14) that is present in all terrestrial life. At death the isotope gradually decays. So the remaining amount in a given artifact can give us a picture about its age. More precisely, the ratio of remaining carbon-14 to stable, unchanging carbon (carbon-12) is used to try to determine a sample’s age.

I say “try” because the process is not as exact as some cheesy educational books or docudramas will tell us. The buzzword “carbon-dating” is often used to apparently prove scientific theories, but many laypersons are unaware of the high degree of controversy (and inaccuracy) surrounding this process. Like most, if not all, of science, there’s room for bias and interpretation. And this is hardly surprising because science is a human enterprise to begin with.

Image created by Jennifer M. Wenner, Geology Department, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (2007), The Science Education Resource Center (SERC). CCL.

The idea of carbon dating has become so much a part of popular culture that it appears in science fiction and fantasy films like Prometheus,¹ where carbon samples are used to determine the age of alien substances discovered on a distant planet.

Related Posts » Archaeology


Image source (immediate right) and helpful article


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