Carbon 14 dating unreliable

Would you trust a dating technique that said living mollusks had shells 2,300 years old, or worse, 27,000 years?

What if that same technique yielded dates for Triassic wood (when the dinosaurs lived) at 34,000 years and dated millions-of-years-old coal, oil, and even diamonds at less than 100,000 years? Libby and others in 1949, radiocarbon dating revolutionized archaeology––and other scientific fields––by establishing robust dates for organic materials of a biological origin like wood, bone, or shell.

I have tried here to answer some of the frequently asked questions that I receive from students via email, as well as providing some basic information about scientific dating methods.

"Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.

For this reason, it’s preferable to date objects using multiple methods, rather than relying on one single test.

This discovery meant that there are three naturally occurring isotopes of carbon: Whereas carbon-12 and carbon-13 are stable isotopes, carbon-14 is unstable or radioactive.

Carbon-14 is produced in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays bombard nitrogen atoms.

For example, a steel spearhead cannot be carbon dated, so archaeologists might perform testing on the wooden shaft it was attached to.

This provides good information, but it only indicates how long ago that piece of wood was cut from a living tree.

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Carbon dating is reliable within certain parameters but certainly not infallible.

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