Use of carbon dating in archaeology

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Until this century, relative dating was the only technique for identifying the age of a truly ancient object.By examining the object's relation to layers of deposits in the area, and by comparing the object to others found at the site, archaeologists can estimate when the object arrived at the site.Radiocarbon dating was invented in the 1950s by the American chemist Willard F.Libby and a few of his students at the University of Chicago: in 1960, he won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the invention.

Oakley (1979) suggested its development meant an almost complete re-writing of the evolution and cultural emergence of the human species.

The other two isotopes in comparison are more common than carbon-14 in the atmosphere but increase with the burning of fossil fuels making them less reliable for study (2); carbon-14 also increases, but its relative rarity means its increase is negligible. After this point, other Absolute Dating methods may be used.

Today, the radiocarbon-14 dating method is used extensively in environmental sciences and in human sciences such as archaeology and anthropology.

date of organic material - but an approximate age, usually within a range of a few years either way.

The other method is “Relative Dating” which gives an order of events without giving an exact age (1): typically artefact typology or the study of the sequence of the evolution of fossils.

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