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Thank you for visiting nature. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer. Researchers use data from tree rings, sediment layers and other samples to calibrate the process of carbon dating.
Radiocarbon dating — a key tool used for determining the age of prehistoric samples — is about to get a major update. For the first time in seven years, the technique is due to be recalibrated using a slew of new data from around the world.
The work combines thousands of data points from tree rings, lake and ocean sediments, corals and stalagmites, among other features, and extends the time frame for radiocarbon dating back to 55, years ago — 5, years further than the last calibration update in Archaeologists are downright giddy. Archaeology: Date with history. Although the recalibration mostly in subtle changes, even tiny tweaks can make a huge difference for archaeologists and paleo-ecologists aiming to pin events to a small window of time.
The basis of radiocarbon dating is simple: all living things absorb carbon from the atmosphere and food sources around them, including a certain amount of natural, radioactive carbon Measuring the amount left over gives an estimate as to how long something has been dead. In recent decades, the burning of fossil fuel and tests of nuclear bombs have radically altered the amount of carbon in the air, and there are non-anthropogenic wobbles going much further back.
During planetary magnetic-field reversals, for example, more solar radiation enters the atmosphere, producing more carbon The oceans also suck up carbon — a little more so in the Southern Hemisphere, where there is more ocean — and circulate it for centuries, further complicating things.
As a result, conversion tables are needed that match up calendar dates with radiocarbon dates in different regions. They will be published in the journal Radiocarbon in the next few months. Since the s, researchers have mainly done this recalibration with trees, counting annual rings to get calendar dates and matching those with measured radiocarbon dates.
The oldest single tree for which this has been done, a bristlecone pine from California, was about 5, years old. By matching up the relative widths of rings from one tree to another, including from bogs and historic buildings, the tree record has now been pushed back to 13, years ago. World's largest hoard of carbon dates goes global. Insome stalagmites in Hulu Cave in China provided a datable record stretching back 54, years 1. Higham says the recalibration is fundamental for understanding the chronology of hominins living 40, years ago.
IntCal20 revises the date for a Homo sapiens jawbone found in Romania called Oase 1, potentially making it hundreds of years older than ly thought 2. Genetic analyses of Oase 1 have revealed that it had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back, says Higham, so the older the Oase 1 date, the further back Neanderthals were living in Europe. Meanwhile, the oldest H. Divided by DNA: The uneasy relationship between archaeology and ancient genomics.
Others will use the recalibration to assess environmental events.
For example, researchers have been arguing for decades over the timing of the Minoan eruption at the Greek island of Santorini. Until now, radiocarbon typically gave a best date in the low s BC, about years older than given by most archaeological assessments. IntCal20 improves the accuracy of dating but makes the debate more complicated: overall, it bumps the calendar dates for the radiocarbon result about 5—15 years younger, but — because the calibration curve wiggles around a lot — it also provides six potential time windows for the eruption, most likely in the low s BC, but maybe in the high s BC 2.
So the two groups still disagree, says Reimer, but less so, and with more complications. Cheng, H. Science— PubMed Article Google Scholar. Article Google Scholar. Download references. Article 20 OCT Perspective 20 OCT News 13 OCT Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Amberstone Biosciences Inc. Advanced search.
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