Understanding carbon dating

The proportion of carbon 14 in the sample examined provides an indication of the time elapsed since death of the sample’s source.

Radiocarbon dating results are reported in uncalibrated years BP (Before Present), where BP is defined as AD 1950.

Decay of carbon 14 takes thousands of years, and it is this wonder of nature that forms the basis of radiocarbon dating and made this carbon 14 analysis a powerful tool in revealing the past.

The process of radiocarbon dating starts with the analysis of the carbon 14 left in a sample.

Some samples, like wood, already ceased interacting with the biosphere and have an apparent age at death and linking them to the age of the deposits around the sample would not be wholly accurate.

There are also cases when the association between the sample and the deposit is not apparent or easily understood.

The sample-context relationship is not always straightforward.

Date of a sample pre-dates the context it is found.

But archaeology’s aim to understand mankind is a noble endeavor that goes beyond uncovering buried treasures, gathering information, and dating events.Great care must be exercised when linking an event with the context and the context with the sample to be processed by radiocarbon dating.An archaeologist must also make sure that only the useful series of samples are collected and processed for carbon dating and not every organic material found in the excavation site.Before deciding on using carbon dating as an analytical method, an archaeologist must first make sure that the results of radiocarbon dating after calibration can provide the needed answers to the archaeological questions asked.The implication of what is represented by the carbon 14 activity of a sample must be considered.

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