The carbon clock is getting reset. Climate records from a Japanese lake are set to improve the accuracy of the dating technique, which could help to shed light on archaeological mysteries such as why Neanderthals became extinct. Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material - in effect, any living thing. The technique hinges on carbon, a radioactive isotope of the element that, unlike other more stable forms of carbon, decays away at a steady rate. Organisms capture a certain amount of carbon from the atmosphere when they are alive. By measuring the ratio of the radio isotope to non-radioactive carbon, the amount of carbon decay can be worked out, thereby giving an age for the specimen in question. But that assumes that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere was constant - any variation would speed up or slow down the clock.
Living organisms are constantly incorporating this C into their bodies along with other carbon isotopes. When the organisms die, they stop incorporating new C, and the old C starts to decay back into N by emitting beta particles. The older an organism's remains are, the less beta radiation it emits because its C is steadily dwindling at a predictable rate.
So, if we measure the rate of beta decay in an organic sample, we can calculate how old the sample is. C decays with a half-life of 5, years. Question: Kieth and Anderson radiocarbon-dated the shell of a living freshwater mussel and obtained an age of over two thousand years.
ICR creationists claim that this discredits C dating. How do you reply? Answer: It does discredit the C dating of freshwater mussels, but that's about all. Kieth and Anderson show considerable evidence that the mussels acquired much of their carbon from the limestone of the waters they lived in and from some very old humus as well.
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Carbon from these sources is very low in C because these sources are so old and have not been mixed with fresh carbon from. Thus, a freshly killed mussel has far less C than a freshly killed something else, which is why the C dating method makes freshwater mussels seem older than they really are. When dating wood there is no such problem because wood gets its carbon straight from the air, complete with a full dose of C The creationists who quote Kieth and Anderson never tell you this, however.
Question: A sample that is more than fifty thousand years old shouldn't have any measurable C Coal, oil, and natural gas are supposed to be millions of years old; yet creationists say that some of them contain measurable amounts of C, enough to give them C ages in the tens of thousands of years.
How do you explain this? Answer: Very simply. Radiocarbon dating doesn't work well on objects much older than twenty thousand years, because such objects have so little C left that their beta radiation is swamped out by the background radiation of cosmic rays and potassium K decay. Younger objects can easily be dated, because they still emit plenty of beta radiation, enough to be measured after the background radiation has been subtracted out of the total beta radiation.
However, in either case, the background beta radiation has to be compensated for, and, in the older objects, the amount of C they have left is less than the margin of error in measuring background radiation.
As Hurley points out:. Without rather special developmental work, it is not generally practicable to measure ages in excess of about twenty thousand years, because the radioactivity of the carbon becomes so slight that it is difficult to get an accurate measurement above background radiation.
Cosmic rays form beta radiation all the time; this is the radiation that turns N to C in the first place. K decay also forms plenty of beta radiation.
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Stearns, Carroll, and Clark point out that ". This radiation cannot be totally eliminated from the laboratory, so one could probably get a "radiocarbon" date of fifty thousand years from a pure carbon-free piece of tin. However, you now know why this fact doesn't at all invalidate radiocarbon dates of objects younger than twenty thousand years and is certainly no evidence for the notion that coals and oils might be no older than fifty thousand years.
Question: Creationists such as Cook claim that cosmic radiation is now forming C in the atmosphere about one and one-third times faster than it is decaying. If we extrapolate backwards in time with the proper equations, we find that the earlier the historical period, the less C the atmosphere had.
If we extrapolate. If they are right, this means all C ages greater than two or three thousand years need to be lowered drastically and that the earth can be no older than ten thousand years. Answer: Yes, Cook is right that C is forming today faster than it's decaying. However, the amount of C has not been rising steadily as Cook maintains; instead, it has fluctuated up and down over the past ten thousand years.
How do we know this?
C14 dating is very accurate for wood used up to about 4, years ago. This is only because it is well calibrated with objects of known age. Example: wood found in a grave of known age by historically reliable documents is the standard for that time for the C14 content.
From radiocarbon dates taken from bristlecone pines. There are two ways of dating wood from bristlecone pines: one can count rings or one can radiocarbon-date the wood.
Since the tree ring counts have reliably dated some specimens of wood all the way back to BC, one can check out the C dates against the tree-ring-count dates. Admittedly, this old wood comes from trees that have been dead for hundreds of years, but you don't have to have an 8,year-old bristlecone pine tree alive today to validly determine that sort of date. It is easy to correlate the inner rings of a younger living tree with the outer rings of an older dead tree.
The correlation is possible because, in the Southwest region of the United States, the widths of tree rings vary from year to year with the rainfall, and trees all over the Southwest have the same pattern of variations.
When experts compare the tree-ring dates with the C dates, they find that radiocarbon ages before BC are really too young-not too old as Cook maintains. For example, pieces of wood that date at about BC by tree-ring counts date at only BC by regular C dating and BC by Cook's creationist revision of C dating as we see in the article, "Dating, Relative and Absolute," in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
So, despite creationist claims, C before three thousand years ago was decaying faster than it was being formed and C dating errs on the side of making objects from before BC look too youngnot too old.
Question: But don't trees sometimes produce more than one growth ring per year? Wouldn't that spoil the tree-ring count? Answer: If anything, the tree-ring sequence suffers far more from missing rings than from double rings.
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This means that the tree-ring dates would be slightly too young, not too old. Of course, some species of tree tend to produce two or more growth rings per year. But other species produce scarcely any extra rings.
Most of the tree-ring sequence is based on the bristlecone pine. This tree rarely produces even a trace of an extra ring; on the contrary, a typical bristlecone pine has up to 5 percent of its rings missing.
Concerning the sequence of rings derived from the bristlecone pine, Ferguson says:. In certain species of conifers, especially those at lower elevations or in southern latitudes, one season's growth increment may be composed of two or more flushes of growth, each of which may strongly resemble an annual ring.
In the growth-ring analyses of approximately one thousand trees in the White Mountains, we have, in fact, found no more than three or four occurrences of even incipient multiple growth layers. In years of severe drought, a bristlecone pine may fail to grow a complete ring all the way around its perimeter; we may find the ring if we bore into the tree from one angle, but not from another.
Hence at least some of the missing rings can be found. Even so, the missing rings are a far more serious problem than any double rings.
How accurate is radiocarbon dating?
Other species of trees corroborate the work that Ferguson did with bristlecone pines. Before his work, the tree-ring sequence of the sequoias had been worked out back to BC. The archaeological ring sequence had been worked out back to 59 BC. The limber pine sequence had been worked out back to 25 BC. The radiocarbon dates and tree-ring dates of these other trees agree with those Ferguson got from the bristlecone pine. But even if he had had no other trees with which to work except the bristlecone pines, that evidence alone would have allowed him to determine the tree-ring chronology back to BC.
See Renfrew for more details. So, creationists who complain about double rings in their attempts to disprove C dating are actually grasping at straws. If the Flood of Noah occurred around BC, as some creationists claim, then all the bristlecone pines would have to be less than five thousand years old.
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This would mean that eighty-two hundred years worth of tree rings had to form in five thousand years, which would mean that one-third of all the bristlecone pine rings would have to be extra rings. Creationists are forced into accepting such outlandish conclusions as these in order to jam the facts of nature into the time frame upon which their "scientific" creation model is based.
Question: Creationist Thomas G. Barnes has claimed that the earth's magnetic field is decaying exponentially with a half-life of fourteen hundred years. Not only does he consider this proof that the earth can be no older than ten thousand years but he also points out that a greater magnetic strength in the past would reduce C dates.
Oct 18, Carbon Dating Gets a Reset. Climate records from a Japanese lake are providing a more accurate timeline for dating objects as far back as 50, years. May 31, One reason the group believes the uranium-thorium estimates to be more accurate than carbon dating is that they produce better matches between known changes in . This is why most people say carbon dating is only good for objects less than 40, years old. Nothing on earth carbon dates in the millions of years, because the scope of carbon dating only extends a few thousand years. Willard Libby invented the carbon dating technique in the early s. The amount of carbon 14 in the atmosphere today is.
Now if the magnetic field several thousand years ago was indeed many times stronger than it is today, there would have been less cosmic radiation entering the atmosphere back then and less C would have been produced. Therefore, any C dates taken from objects of that time period would be too high. How do you answer him? Answer: Like Cook, Barnes looks at only part of the evidence. What he ignores is the great body of archaeological and geological data showing that the strength of the magnetic field has been fluctuating up and down for thousands of years and that it has reversed polarity many times in the geological past.
So, when Barnes extrapolates ten thousand years into the past, he concludes that the magnetic field was nineteen times stronger in BC than it is today, when, actually, it was only half as intense then as now. This means that radiocarbon ages of objects from that time period will be too young, just as we saw from the bristlecone pine evidence. Question: But how does one know that the magnetic field has fluctuated and reversed polarity?
Aren't these just excuses scientists give in order to neutralize Barnes's claims? Answer: The evidence for fluctuations and reversals of the magnetic field is quite solid.
They have their work cut out for them, however, because radiocarbon (C) dating is one of the most reliable of all the radiometric dating methods. This article will answer several of the most common creationist attacks on carbon dating, using the question-answer format that has proved so useful to lecturers and debaters. How Accurate Is CARBON DATING? Paul W Kroll The reason for the limits is the infinitesimally small number of carbon atoms to ordinary carbon atoms. There is only one radioactive carbon atom to every trillion atoms of ordinary carbon. The abundance of carbon atoms in modern wood is this tiny percentage: %. The result is that carbon dating is accurate for only a few thousand years. Anything beyond that is questionable. This fact is born out in how carbon dating results are used by scientists in the scientific literature. Many scientists will use carbon dating test results to back up their position if the results agree with their preconceived theories.
Bucha, a Czech geophysicist, has used archaeological artifacts made of baked clay to determine the strength of the earth's magnetic field when they were manufactured. He found that the earth's magnetic field was 1.
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Is Carbon Dating Accurate? Only to a certain extent. In order for carbon dating to be accurate, we must know what the ratio of carbon to carbon was in the environment in which our specimen lived during its lifetime. Unfortunately the ratio of carbon to carbon has yet to reach a state of equilibrium in our atmosphere; there is more carbon in the air today than there was thousands of years ago.
Furthermore, the ratio is known to fluctuate significantly over relatively short periods of time e. Carbon dating is somewhat accurate because we are able to determine what the ratio was in the unobservable past to a certain extent. By taking a carboniferous specimen of known age that is, a specimen which we are able to date with reasonable certainty through some archaeological meansscientists are able to determine what the ratio was during a specimen's lifetime.
They are then able to calibrate the carbon dating method to produce fairly accurate results. Carbon dating is thus accurate within the timeframe set by other archaeological dating techniques.
Unfortunately, we aren't able to reliably date artifacts beyond several thousand years. Scientists have tried to extend confidence in the carbon dating method further back in time by calibrating the method using tree ring dating.
Unfortunately, tree ring dating is itself not entirely reliable, especially the "long chronology" employed to calibrate the carbon dating method. The result is that carbon dating is accurate for only a few thousand years. Anything beyond that is questionable.