Fine-tuning our methods for dating artifacts could lead to greater accuracy.
When an archaeologist makes a discovery, they rely on a method called Carbon-14 dating that can give us a reasonable estimate of when in our history the artifact in question was created. Carbon dating can somewhat accurately place an organic object’s history by measuring the deterioration of the Carbon-14 isotope in the object, based on the element’s half-life.
The half-life of carbon is 5,730 years, which means that it will take this amount of time for it to reduce from 100g of carbon to 50g … Similarly, it will take another 5,730 years for the amount of carbon to drop to 25g, and so on … By testing the amount of carbon stored in an object, and comparing to the original amount of carbon believed to have been stored at the time of death, scientists can estimate its age.
Now, reports Phys.org, a new paper from Cornell University has highlighted the importance of refining our techniques, in order to gain a more accurate view of humanity’s timeline. The paper, which appeared in the March 18 issue of Science Advances, suggests that fine-tuning the science could change our understanding of Mediterranean, Greek, and Egyptian history, including the history of the area of the world where the majority of the biblical narratives took place.
The study noted that the deterioration of the Carbon-14 isotope occurs when it is subjected to cosmic radiation, the prevalence of which fluctuates throughout history. In order to calibrate the process to account for these fluctuations, experts examine tree rings, which can show how much carbon the tree took out of the air in a given period. As they discover more samples for the calibration, a single Northern Hemisphere calibration curve has been developed to help aid in dating.
The paper, however, calls into question the accuracy of this curve, as they have recognized that the growing season plays a part. In the winter, trees take less carbon out of the air than they do in summer, and this factor could skew the test results.
In an area of the world like the Middle East, where humans have been active for thousands of years, even a discrepancy of 50 years could disrupt a timeline. Where the team has adjusted for such factors, they have found that the timeline they’re trying to complete is much more in line with the evidence they have discovered.
“Getting the date right will rewrite and get our history correct in terms of what groups were significant in shaping what then became classical civilization,” the authors wrote. “An accurate timeline is key to our history.”