Radiocarbon Dating

I created this cartoon for the ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?’ blog!

What's up, Archaeology?


What’s radiocarbon dating all about?  It’s one of the most popular ways of figuring out the age of an archaeological site using organic material (i.e. a living thing at one point, like a tree or ear of corn).  So, bone, charcoal, cloth, artifacts made from organic material or the material itself can (hypothetically) be dated.  How does this work?  The amount of Carbon 14 in no longer living organic material decays at a steady rate (a half-life) over time; the smaller the amount of C-14 left in the material, the older the sample is.  It is incredible how this method can date sites that are 40,000 years old!

Unlike dendrochronology, radiocarbon dating does not provide a specific year to date an archaeological site, but a range of years which are calculated with fancy mathematics and physics well beyond my understanding (i.e. I just hear ‘bleep bloop fancy words blah blah…

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