Developed carbon dating
Other high profile projects include the dating of the Turin Shroud to the medieval period, the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls to around the time of Christ, and the somewhat controversial dating of the spectacular rock art at Chauvet Cave to c.38,000 cal BP (c.32,000 BP) – thousands of years earlier than expected.
Radiocarbon dating has also been used to date the extinction of the woolly mammoth and contributed to the debate over whether modern humans and Neanderthals met.
From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).
A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.
Radioactive decay can be used as a “clock” because it is unaffected by physical (e.g. For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth.
The uncalibrated date is given with the unit BP (radiocarbon years before 1950).The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of C, making it incredibly difficult to measure and extremely sensitive to contamination.In the early years of radiocarbon dating a product’s decay was measured, but this required huge samples (e.g. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS), a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual C atoms in a sample.If 1% of the carbon in a 50,000 year old sample is from a modern contaminant, the sample will be dated to around 40,000 years.Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.