History, anthropology, and archaeology are three distinct but closely related bodies of knowledge that tell man of his present by virtue of his past. Historians can tell what cultures thrived in different regions and when they disintegrated. Archaeologists, on the other hand, provide proof of authenticity of a certain artifact or debunk historical or anthropological findings. Studying the material remains of past human life and activities may How does carbon hookup help archaeologists seem important or exciting to the average Joe unlike the biological sciences.
It is in knowing what made past cultures cease to exist that could provide the key in making sure that history does not repeat itself. Over the years, archaeology has uncovered information about past cultures that would have been left unknown had it not been with the help of such technologies as radiocarbon dating, dendrochronologyarchaeomagnetic dating, fluoride dating, luminescence dating, and obsidian hydration analysis, among others.
Radiocarbon dating has been around for more than 50 years and has revolutionized archaeology. Carbon 14 dating remains to be a powerful, dependable and widely applicable technique that is invaluable to archaeologists and other scientists.
The unstable and radioactive carbon 14, called radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring isotope of the element carbon. When a living thing dies, it stops interacting with the biosphere, and the carbon 14 in it remains unaffected by the biosphere but will naturally undergo decay.
Decay of carbon 14 takes thousands of years, and it is this wonder of nature that forms the basis of radiocarbon dating and made this carbon 14 analysis a powerful tool in revealing the past. The process of radiocarbon dating starts with the analysis of the carbon 14 left in a sample. Calibration is then done to convert BP years into calendar years.
This information is then related to true historical dates. Before deciding on using carbon dating as an analytical method, an archaeologist must first make sure that the results of radiocarbon dating after calibration can provide the needed answers to the archaeological questions asked.
The implication of what is represented by the carbon 14 activity of a sample must be considered.
The sample-context relationship is not always straightforward. Date of a sample pre-dates the context it is found.
Some samples, like wood, already ceased interacting with the biosphere and have an apparent age at death and linking them to the age of the deposits around the sample would not be wholly accurate. There are also cases when the association between the sample and the deposit is not apparent or easily understood.
Great care must be exercised when linking an event with the context and the context with the sample to be processed by radiocarbon dating. An archaeologist must also make sure that only the useful series of samples are collected and processed for carbon dating and not every organic material found in the excavation site. It is important that the radiocarbon scientists and archaeologists agree on the sampling strategy before starting the excavation so time, effort, and resources will not be wasted and meaningful result will be produced after the carbon dating process.
It must be stressed that archaeologists need to interact with radiocarbon laboratories first before excavation due to several factors.
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Laboratories have limitations in terms of the samples they can process for radiocarbon dating. Some labs, for example, do not date carbonates.
Laboratories must also be consulted as to the required amount of sample that they ideally like to process as well as their preference with certain samples for carbon dating. Other labs accept waterlogged wood while others prefer them dry at submission. Contaminants must not be introduced to the samples during collection and storing. Hydrocarbons, glue, biocides, polyethylene glycol or polyvinyl acetate PVA must not come in contact with samples for radiocarbon dating.
Other potential contaminants include paper, cardboard, cotton wool, string and cigarette ash. Samples must be stored in packaging materials that will protect them during transport and even during prolonged storage. Labels attached to the packaging materials must not fade or rub off easily. Glass containers can be used when storing radiocarbon dating samples, but they are susceptible to breakage and can be impractical when dealing with large samples. Aluminum containers with screw caps are safe, but it How does carbon hookup help archaeologists still best to consult the radiocarbon laboratory for the best containers of carbon dating samples.
It is recommended that archaeologists, or any client in general, ask the laboratory if results have systematic or random errors.