Hornt wechat - Carbon 14 dating curve

Nyerup's words illustrate poignantly the critical power and importance of dating; to order time.

Radiocarbon dating has been one of the most significant discoveries in 20th century science.

In the case of radiocarbon dating, the half-life of carbon 14 is 5,730 years.

This half life is a relatively small number, which means that carbon 14 dating is not particularly helpful for very recent deaths and deaths more than 50,000 years ago.

"Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.

We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].

Desmond Clark (1979) wrote that were it not for radiocarbon dating, "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation" (Clark, 1979:7).

Writing of the European Upper Palaeolithic, Movius (1960) concluded that "time alone is the lens that can throw it into focus".

Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.

Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.

If we have a tree that is 500 years old we can measure the radiocarbon in the 500 rings and see what radiocarbon concentration corresponds to each calendar year.

Using very old trees (such as the Bristlecone Pines in the western U. A.), it is possible to make measurements back to a few thousand years ago.

Radiocarbon dating can be used on samples of bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers.

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