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Radiocarbon dating made simple


Radioactive carbon decays at a known rate. This allows scientists to look at the amount of decay in a fossil’s radioactive carbon and determine a relative date.

The science of dendrochronology is based on the phenomenon that trees usually grow by the addition of rings, hence the name tree-ring dating. Dendrochronologists date events and variations in environments in the past by analyzing and comparing growth ring patterns of trees and aged wood. They can determine the exact calendar year each tree ring was formed. Dendrochronological findings played an important role in the early days of radiocarbon dating . Tree rings provided truly known-age material needed to check the accuracy of the carbon-14 dating method. During the late 1950s, several scientists (notably the Dutchman Hessel de Vries) were able to confirm the discrepancy between radiocarbon ages and calendar ages through results gathered from carbon dating rings of trees. The tree rings were dated through dendrochronology. At present, tree rings are still used to calibrate radiocarbon determinations. Libraries of tree rings of different calendar ages are now available to provide records extending back over the last 11,000 years. The trees often used as references are the bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) found in the USA and waterlogged Oak (Quercus sp.) in Ireland and Germany. Radiocarbon dating laboratories have been known to use data from other species of trees.


Radiocarbon dating made simple

Radiocarbon dating made simple