About the job archaeologist radioactive dating

Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.

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From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).

A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.

The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of C, making it incredibly difficult to measure and extremely sensitive to contamination.

In the early years of radiocarbon dating a product’s decay was measured, but this required huge samples (e.g. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS), a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual C atoms in a sample.

In 2008 we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26,000 years.

Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.

In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.

Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.

Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.

This means that although they are very similar chemically, they have different masses.

In this way large domed tombs (known as tholos or beehive tombs) in Greece were thought to predate similar structures in the Scottish Island of Maeshowe.

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