Discovery of radio carbon dating
Precisely dating archaeological artifacts is not as easy or harmless as it might seem.The most common method, radiocarbon dating, requires that a piece of an organic object be destroyed—washed with a strong acid and base at high temperature to remove impurities, and then set aflame.
"Everything so far that we've tried to do with the nondestructive technique has agreed statistically with regular radiocarbon dating," Rowe says, "and you basically don't see any change in the sample." R. Taylor, a radiocarbon expert at the University of California, Riverside, says Rowe's technique may have limitations, as items older than 10,000 years will have impurities that the technique may not be able to purge."It's essentially like slowly burning the sample, so we can just oxidize a little off the surface and collect that carbon dioxide," explains Rowe.This year he further refined the method so it will work on objects coated in sticky hydrocarbons, such as the resins that cover Egyptian mummy gauze.Archaeologists, meanwhile, are hailing the discovery as one of the most important in decades, particularly for issues surrounding the repatriation of human remains from Native American burials, which modern tribes don't want to see harmed.Rowe's refinement of carbon dioxide extraction dovetails with an update to the radiocarbon calibration curve, which increases the accuracy of radiocarbon dating by accounting for past fluctuations in carbon 14.