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26-Apr-2017 20:30

These new techniques can have a dramatic effect on chronologies.

With the development of a new method of cleaning charcoal called ABOx-SC, Michael Bird helped to push back the date of arrival of the first humans in Australia by more than 10,000 years.

This method requires less than 1g of bone, but few countries can afford more than one or two AMSs, which cost more than A0,000.

Australia has two machines dedicated to radiocarbon analysis, and they are out of reach for much of the developing world.

In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.

Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.

From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).

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Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.

In addition, samples need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove carbon contamination from glues and soil before dating.

This is particularly important for very old samples.

Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.

Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.

The calibrated date is also presented, either in BC or AD or with the unit cal BP (calibrated before present - before 1950).



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