Revising Radiocarbon Dating

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Radiocarbon dating methods are frequently used in determining the ages of ancient artifacts and fossils. These methods invariably give a great age for the ancient item in question. Radiocarbon dating is based on the fact that carbon-14 (an isotope of the extremely common element carbon) decays into another carbon isotope, carbon-12, at an exact rate. By measuring the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12, experts can determine the age of something that dates from ancient times.

However, according to the journal Science News, “The older an artifact is, the less certain scientists can be about its age” (Barry 2007: 344). Chris Turney of the University of Exeter in England similarly noted: “With radiocarbon, it’s not possible to obtain absolute dates—there’s always a bit of an unknown” (ibid).

One of the biggest factors in throwing off carbon dates is the fact that nuclear testing, which began around 1950, “blasted out radiation [into the atmosphere] that scientists see clearly as a spike in the radiocarbon record” (ibid.). Most problematic in absorbing this spike in radiation has been charcoal, which scientists use frequently in their dating of ancient finds. To rectify this, Michael Bird of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland created ABOX, a specialized cleaning protocol that rids archaeological samples of nearly all modern nuclear contamination.

According to Richard Gillespie of the Australian National University (the institution at which Prof. Bird first created his technique), “ABOX showed some dates are seriously wrong” (ibid.). Referring to the fact that many Australian fossils were re-dated under the ABOX technique, Gillespie commented, “Something like a hundred dates were wrong and we ended up chucking them all out. Some of the dates were 10,000 years out” (ibid.).

Jeff Pigati of the U.S. Geological Survey has improved on the ABOX method. His system is, in his own words, “especially important for very old samples. Even very small amounts of modern contamination can be fatal for old samples” (ibid., 345).

There is another problem with carbon dating, one that goes beyond adjusting for the increased presence of radiation post-1950. This fact was suspected by no less than Willard Libby, the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of carbon dating, as Science News reported:

Even in the early days, Libby suspected that the carbon-12 to carbon-14 ratio had not remained constant through time. Work on solar cycles and the Earth’s magnetic field proved him right. Both phenomena are known to influence radiocarbon amounts by altering the level of cosmic radiation entering the atmosphere (ibid.).

The uncertainties surrounding science’s most popular dating method underscores how cautious scientists must be before setting in stone any date for an artifact or fossil. In the words of Prof. Gillespie, “Although 26,000 [years ago, according to modern dating assumptions] is pretty well nailed down now, there’s a sort of best guess for what comes after that” (ibid.). Until an infallible dating method is discovered, the dates of ancient discoveries will remain dubitable and controversial.

Reference:

Barry, C.  2007. “Rolling Back the Years.” Science News 172, no. 22.

 

Recommended Resources for Further Study

     
Doesn't Carbon Dating
Disprove the Bible? 
The Big Argument The Genesis Record

Editorial note: The Institute for Creation Research published detailed scientific evidence to show that these dating methods have several flaws, and produced evidence to show there was billion-fold acceleraion associated with radioactive decay in the past, most likely occuring at the time of the Flood. ABR hosted a RATE Conference (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth) with over 700 attendees in the Fall of 2006. For more on this important research, visit: www.icr.org

 

 

Comments Comment RSS

1/25/2009 2:44 PM #

My problem with Carbon dating is the slow down in the half life.  After5,280 years (+/-) the rate of decline seems to slow down to half speed and this rate seems to be conveniently consistant, with each successive 5,280 year period.

sorry i just do not buy into it and i know this theory of decline cannot be verified through experience.  I am betting a revisionneeds to be made in the half life calculations to get this dating system more accurate.  My idea is to limit the decline to 2 half lifes, which would make more sense and bring the dating down to a realistic number and be more consistant with the Biblical data.

Dr. David Tee - 1/25/2009 2:44:09 PM

12/31/2012 3:46 PM #

Hi,

Do you have any articles you can point me to that explain which carbon dates you think are legitimate and when you think they begin to diverge?  If we believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that their was a global Flood in the recent past then there must be some point at which carbon dates begin to stray from Biblical dates.  Where do you put that point or do you not trust the method at all?  From what I can tell in your articles, and I have read many, you seem to use standard archaeological interpretations at least as far back as the Late Bronze Age.  Is there somebody who could engage in a discussion on the topic?  Please feel free to e-mail me directly if this type of question does not belong as an article comment.

Thanks.

Thomas - 12/31/2012 3:46:26 PM

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