Maximum effective dating range for carbon 14 dating

Though the SDSAB does its best, these columns are edited by Ed Zotti, not Cecil, so accuracywise you'd better keep your fingers crossed.Send questions for Cecil Adams to: [email protected] comments about this website to: [email protected] of Use / Privacy Policy Advertise on the Straight Dope!But, for example, imagine a tree that was cut down, used to build a house that stood for a hundred years, then was demolished and the old wood burnt for fuel.We find the hearth, and want to use the ashes to date the fireplace. Samples can be contaminated with older or younger carbon.Consequently, carbon-dating within the past (say) thousand years or so can be adjusted fairly accurately.(There could still be local variation in the amounts of C-14, etc.) Carbon dating for much older samples has a greater margin of error, since we have have no way of knowing the variation in rate of C-14 absorption prior to the tree-ring era.We know that the "blood" on the Shroud of Turin is not blood at all, but paint pigment; however, we know this from polarized light microscopy, not from carbon-dating.

Thus, carbon-daters know the precise adjustments, year by year, to make to an initial radiocarbon dating to account for fluctuations in absorption rates over time.

Generally, contamination is removed by chemical cleaning prior to dating.

Given all these constraints, a sample can only be dated to a range of time.

Second (and more serious) hurdle: calculating the radioactive decay based on a fixed half-life assumes that the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere has been reasonably constant, and that the rate of absorption by plants and animals has also been reasonably constant.

This is not so; in some periods organisms have absorbed more or less C-14 than in others.

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Fortunately, we are mostly able to correct for this.

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