New carbon dating method discovered

News University News

An international team of researchers working in Lake Suigetsu, Japan, have provided a new series of radiocarbon measurements that will give scientists a more accurate benchmark for dating materials, according to Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.

The research team, led by Professor Takeshi Nakagawa of Newcastle University, extracted sediment cores containing organic material from the lake bed, which had lain undisturbed for tens of thousands of years.

The work, recently published in Science, is thought to be extremely significant, enabling scientists to more precisely calculate the radiocarbon ages of organic material. These findings will contribute to dating throughout the entire 11,000-53,000-year time range, and will provide the evidence to accurately date major events in the past, such as the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Radiocarbon dating is an objective method of calculating a sample’s age with quantifiable precision. Radiocarbon is relatively constant within the atmosphere, and becomes incorporated into all living organisms during their lifetimes. Upon death, radiocarbon begins to decay within the organisms at a known rate; therefore scientists are able to date samples by measuring the amount of radiocarbon remaining today.

Complications can arise due to small fluctuations in the initial quantities of radiocarbon in the atmosphere as the earth moves through different stages of the carbon cycle.

Previously, the longest and widely –used radiocarbon dating has been taken from marine sediment of cave formations, but these needed correction. This complete and direct terrestrial record will improve scientists’ abilities to accurately age samples; reducing the range that carbon dating currently produces. Professor Christopher Ramsey, from the research team at Oxford, said: “For the first time we have a more accurate calibrated time-scale, which will allow us to answer questions in archaeology that we have not had the resolution to address before”.