Carbon 14 dating accuracy
Climate records from a Japanese lake are set to improve the accuracy of the dating technique, which could help to shed light on archaeological mysteries such as why Neanderthals became extinct.
Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material — in effect, any living thing.
Take the extinction of Neanderthals, which occurred in western Europe less than 30,000 years ago.
Preserved leaves in the cores — “they look fresh as if they’ve fallen very recently”, Bronk Ramsey says — yielded 651 carbon dates that could be compared to the calendar dates of the sediment they were found in.
The recalibrated clock won’t force archaeologists to abandon old measurements wholesale, says Bronk Ramsey, but it could help to narrow the window of key events in human history.
For example, a particular object that has been dated might a radiocarbon age of 4500 years, plus or minus 30 years.
The margin of error depends on the object, but for samples younger than 10,000 years, the uncertainty is usually at most 40 years.
Search for carbon 14 dating accuracy:
The technique hinges on carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of the element that, unlike other more stable forms of carbon, decays away at a steady rate.