Radiocarbon dating provides us with the opportunity to “order time.” Determining when something happened based on the age of land formations or artifacts, or figuring out in what order certain events happened, can be crucial to understanding human culture and environmental changes.Radiocarbon dating has significantly changed humans’ approach to history during the last 50 years.
The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results.
Sometimes only one method is possible, reducing the confidence researchers have in the results. “They’re based on ‘it’s that old because I say so,’ a popular approach by some of my older colleagues,” says Shea, laughing, “though I find I like it myself as I get more gray hair.” Kidding aside, dating a find is crucial for understanding its significance and relation to other fossils or artifacts.
Methods fall into one of two categories: relative or absolute.
Before more precise absolute dating tools were possible, researchers used a variety of comparative approaches called relative dating.
Dating schemes based on rates of radioactivity have been refined and scrutinized for several decades.