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High-tech Israeli research lab carbon dates with extreme accuracy

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Those interested in biblical archaeology in particular will be happy to find that antiquities can be more accurately dated.

The Weizmann Institute in Israel is home to the “D-REAM” team, where scientists and archaeologists work side-by-side to date the prizes of excavations with the most precision possible by current technological means. The process utilizes a nameless Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) machine, the only one of its kind in the Middle East, which routinely challenges what we know of humanity’s historical timeline, often rewriting it as a result.

The Weizmann Institute’s website explains that the D-REAM project, short for Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, was launched in 2012 and focuses its studies on the results of carbon testing utilizing the AMS machine. The process is explained in a video from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (featured above), one of only 13 facilities in the world to house this technology, where geophysicist Tom Brown explains:

“The technique we use here is called Accelerator Mass Spectrometry. It uses an accelerator to give ions of interest a lot of energy so that we can filter them and use certain kinds of detectors to count specific ions of a particular isotope of interest.”

Appearing nearly as complex as the Large Hadron Collider, albeit much less imposing, the AMS machine can date an object using only a minuscule sample, which allows experts to perform their tests without compromising the integrity of the object. Along with aiding in the preservation of these artifacts, which are often both valuable and fragile, the nature of the acceleration allows for faster, more accurate results than other methods.

In Israel, where some of the earliest human civilizations arose, this greater accuracy has been changing what we know of our timeline. The process can also identify elements of an archaeological site that experts might have missed. Stephen Oryszczuk of The Times of Israel recently took a tour of the D-REAM facility, where Judy Dangoor, one of the founders of D-REAM, noted that the AMS machine can help determine the function of a site as well as its dating. She said:

“It turned out to be stables. [Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto, director of D-REAM,] could work out what animals were kept, what diseases they had, what food they ate … Once you’re able to date these tiny bits, there’s a lot of information the ordinary eye can’t see, and sadly here, neither could the archaeologists.”

The Weizmann Institute’s good works have already made an impact on what we know of history. A 2017 report from Phys.org records an instance where the Dangoor AMS machine was able to change the known date of a Jerusalem tower by nearly a millennium. They wrote:

Based on pottery and other regional findings, the archaeologists had originally assigned it a date of 1,700 BCE. But new research conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science provides conclusive evidence that the stones at the base of the tower were laid nearly 1,000 years later. Among other things, the new results highlight the contribution of advanced scientific dating methods to understanding the history of the region.

Learning about and understanding the past is the prime function of an archaeologist, and with this advanced technology there may be far less guesswork in their conclusions. The presence of the Dangoor AMS machine in the Middle East could help to give faster, more accurate results to the works of biblical archaeaologists, which in turn could help to authenticate and fasten our perceived timeline of biblical events.

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