Radio carbon dating artifacts
For the most part, radiocarbon dating has made a huge difference for archaeologists everywhere, but the process does have a few flaws.
Before this, it was anyone's guess how different digs' timelines compared to one another over great distances.The excavator might employ relative dating, using objects located stratigraphically (read: buried at the same depth) close to each other, or he or she might compare historical styles to see if there were similarities to a previous find.But by using these imprecise methods, archeologists were often way off.Prior to the development of radiocarbon dating, it was difficult to tell when an archaeological artifact came from.Unless something was obviously attributable to a specific year -- say a dated coin or known piece of artwork -- then whoever discovered it had to do quite a bit of guesstimating to get a proper age for the item.Relative dating stems from the idea that something is younger or older relative to something else.
In a stratigraphical context objects closer to the surface are more recent in time relative to items deeper in the ground.
A man called Willard F Libby pioneered it at the University of Chicago in the 50's. This is now the most widely used method of age estimation in the field of archaeology.
When it comes to dating archaeological samples, several timescale problems arise.
Fortunately, Willard Libby, a scientist who would later win the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, developed the process known as radiocarbon dating in the late 1940s. In a nutshell, it works like this: After an organism dies, it stops absorbing carbon-14, so the radioactive isotope starts to decay and is not replenished.
Archaeologists can then measure the amount of carbon-14 compared to the stable isotope carbon-12 and determine how old an item is.
Also, the larger the sample the better, although new techniques mean smaller samples can sometimes be tested more effectively.