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The ability to date whatever you like, wherever you like, is the archaeologist’s dream. And it looks like a new carbon-dating technique is about to help make that dream come true.
It seems that DigVentures weren’t the only ones promoting groundbreaking innovation last week. A new radio carbon dating technique looks set to join Digital Dig Team as one of the biggest tech innovations set to revolutionise field archaeology this year.
Developed by the University of Liverpool, the new technique uses a Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer, which will reduce the time it takes to get carbon-dating results from a number of weeks to just a couple of days. Even better than that, it can be used on site without needing to send samples away.
Carbon dating determines the age of archaeological objects, or how long ago a creature died, by measuring the amount of Carbon -14 remaining inside. The method is based on the theory that every living organism contains a small but constant proportion of this radioactive carbon isotope.
When the organism dies the C-14 is no longer replaced and that which remains decays at a constant rate. The time it takes for one half of a radioactive isotope to decay is known as its ‘half-life. By knowing the half-life of C-14 and estimating how many C-14 atoms the organism contained before it died, we can calculate the age of an object or creature at time of death.