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WHAT IS RADIOCARBON DATING AND IS IT A RELIABLE METHOD OF DATING ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES?

By Sean Hancock
December 2000

"Everything that has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time that we cannot measure. We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millennium we can do no more than guess" [1]
Rasmus Nyerup 1806

Many of us are intimidated by science. Radiocarbon dating, a development in atomic physics, is a case in point. The importance of this scientific method, however, is far reaching, influencing a multitude of various and independent disciplines such as hydrology, geology, atmospheric science and archaeology to name but a few. However, we leave the actual task of understanding radiocarbon dating to the boffin elite - we accept their conclusions blindly, respect the precision of their equipment and admire their genius.

In truth, the principles of radiocarbon dating are astoundingly simple and readily accessible. Furthermore, the presumption that radiocarbon dating is an "exact science" is erroneous and in all fairness few scientists make this claim anyway. The problem is that the many individuals across many disciplines that employ radiocarbon dating as a dating device do not understand its nature or purpose. Lets put the record straight.

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References:

  1. Rasmus Nyerup, Oversyn over foedrelandets mindesmaerker fra oldtiden

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