In principle, any material of plant or animal origin, including textiles, wood, bones and leather, can be dated by its content of carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon in the environment that is incorporated by all living things.
Because it is radioactive, carbon 14 steadily decays into other substances.
Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years.
The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age.
Scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Laboratory of Columbia University at Palisades, N.
Y., reported today in the British journal Nature that some estimates of age based on carbon analyses were wrong by as much as 3,500 years.
New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years.
This assumption is backed by numerous scientific studies and is relatively sound.
However, conditions may have been different in the past and could have influenced the rate of decay or formation of radioactive elements.
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We thank you in advance for partnering with us in this small but significant way. All methods of radioactive dating rely on three assumptions that may not necessarily be true: It is assumed that the rate of decay has remained constant over time.