Radiocarbon dating methodology

Since the turn of the century, several methods to measure elapsed time have been discovered.

The first and simplest method of absolute dating is using objects with dates inscribed on them, such as coins, or objects associated with historical events or documents.

Archaeologists use many different techniques to determine the age of a particular artifact, site, or part of a site.

Two broad categories of dating or chronometric techniques that archaeologists use are called relative and absolute dating.

For example, since each Roman emperor had his own face stamped on coins during his realm, and dates for emperor's realms are known from historical records, the date a coin was minted may be discerned by identifying the emperor depicted.

Many of the first efforts of archaeology grew out of historical documents--for example, Schliemann looked for Homer's Troy, and Layard went after the Biblical Ninevah--and within the context of a particular site, an object clearly associated with the site and stamped with a date or other identifying clue was perfectly useful. Outside of the context of a single site or society, a coin's date is useless.

Dendrochronology has been extended in the American southwest to 322 BC, by adding increasingly older archaeological samples to the record.

There are dendrochronological records for Europe and the Aegean, and the International Tree Ring Database has contributions from 21 different countries.

The main drawback to dendrochronology is its reliance on the existence of relatively long-lived vegetation with annual growth rings.

Clark Wissler, an anthropologist researching Native American groups in the Southwest, recognized the potential for such dating, and brought Douglass subfossil wood from puebloan ruins.

Unfortunately, the wood from the pueblos did not fit into Douglass's record, and over the next 12 years, they searched in vain for a connecting ring pattern, building a second prehistoric sequence of 585 years.

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Each tree then, contains a record of rainfall for the length of its life, expressed in density, trace element content, stable isotope composition, and intra-annual growth ring width.

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