Encyclopedia of scientific dating methods

This includes factoring in many variables, such as the amount of radiation the object was exposed to each year.

These techniques are accurate only for material ranging from a few thousand to 500,000 years old — some researchers argue the accuracy diminishes significantly after 100,000 years.

Paleomagnetism is often used as a rough check of results from another dating method.

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Egyptologists, for example, created a relative chronology of pre-pharaonic Egypt based on increasing complexity in ceramics found at burial sites.

Whenever possible, researchers use one or more absolute dating methods, which provide an age for the actual fossil or artifact.

Measuring carbon-14 in bones or a piece of wood provides an accurate date, but only within a limited range.

Says Shea: “Beyond 40,000 years old, the sample is so small, and the contamination risk so great, that the margin of error is thousands of years.

Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die.

Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in their remains decreases.

Biostratigraphy: One of the first and most basic scientific dating methods is also one of the easiest to understand.

Layers of rock build one atop another — find a fossil or artifact in one layer, and you can reasonably assume it’s older than anything above it.

It would be like having a watch that told you day and night.” Single crystal fusion: Also called single crystal argon or argon-argon (Ar-Ar) dating, this method is a refinement of an older approach known as potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating, which is still sometimes used.

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