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

By Sean Hancock
December 2000

Overview

Radiocarbon dating is a developing scientific method. However, at every stage of its development scientists have supported its overall integrity completely only to eat their words when a significant error of judgement or method is highlighted. Mistakes are made and not surprisingly when one considers the amount of uncontrollable variables the scientist has to take into account: atmospheric fluctuations, background radiation, bacterial growth, contamination and human error.

Radiocarbon dating, as part of a comprehensive archaeological investigation, is still extremely important; it just needs to be put into a cultural and historical perspective. How can a scientist completely disregard strong evidence to the contrary for dating an archaeological site just because his/her radiocarbon date indicates a different age? This is dangerous. Indeed, many Egyptologists upheld Libby's presumption that the chronology for the old kingdom was wrong because it had been 'scientifically proven' to be so [30]. He was in fact wrong.

Radiocarbon dating is useful as a compliment to other data; this is when it is strong. Until the day comes that every variable can be controlled and every error eliminated radiocarbon dates will never have the final word on archaeological sites.

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References:

  1. Renfrew, 73

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