Radiocarbon dating theory
In principle, any material of plant or animal origin, including textiles, wood, bones and leather, can be dated by its content of carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon in the environment that is incorporated by all living things.Because it is radioactive, carbon 14 steadily decays into other substances.Scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Laboratory of Columbia University at Palisades, N.
Therefore they have sought ways to calibrate and correct the carbon dating method.
Uranium 234, a radioactive element present in the environment, slowly decays to form thorium 230.
Using a mass spectrometer, an instrument that accelerates streams of atoms and uses magnets to sort them out according to mass and electric charge, the group has learned to measure the ratio of uranium to thorium very precisely.
Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.
New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years.