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Radiocarbon Dating








The possibility of dating organic material by measuring its loss of the radiocarbon (C-14) atoms that were present when the organism was alive was first suggested in the 1940s. Since then measurement of radiocarbon has been used extensively in archaeology, especially in the dating of human and animal bones. Although it has been a tool of enormous value to archaeologists in the past 50 years, it has been limited by several factors. In most cases it requires a fairly large sample of material; samples can be easily contaminated in the process of handling; it yields a relatively wide range of possible dates; and its effective use is limited to the furthest age of 40,000 or 50,000 years.

Improvements and refinements of the technique have been made over the years, and since the mid-1980s there has been a significant advance in developing a process for high-precision radiocarbon dating using accelerated mass spectrometry (AMS). This can be used to analyze very small samples, extends the range of possible dating to nearly 100,000 years, and yields more precise dates. Its chief drawback is cost.

Meanwhile, thermoluminescence, a technique for dating pottery or any material that has been baked or fired at a high temperature, offers still more possibility for accurate dating of archaeological sites and the ancient cultures that created them.

The Ogema Geshik Point Site
Site 21AN106
The Bryan Site



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Updated 29 Jun 1999