The accuracy of radiocarbon dating

Even then, a large proportion of radiocarbon dating tests return inconsistent, or even incoherent, results, even for tests done on the same sample.The explanation given for these outliers is usually “contamination.” Inconsistent results are another reason why multiple samples, multiples tests, and various parallel methods are used to date objects.Carbon dating is reliable within certain parameters but certainly not infallible.When testing an object using radiocarbon dating, several factors have to be considered: First, carbon dating only works on matter that was once alive, and it only determines the approximate date of death for that sample.Several factors affect radiocarbon test results, not all of which are easy to control objectively.For this reason, it’s preferable to date objects using multiple methods, rather than relying on one single test.Radiocarbon dating can’t tell the difference between wood that was cut and immediately used for the spear, and wood that was cut years before being re-used for that purpose.Nor can it tell if a much older spearhead was attached to a brand-new shaft.

This provides good information, but it only indicates how long ago that piece of wood was cut from a living tree.So even brand-new samples contain incredibly tiny quantities of radiocarbon.Eventually, the amount of carbon-14 remaining is so small that it’s all but undetectable.As samples get older, errors are magnified, and assumptions can render carbon dating all but useless.For example, variations in greenhouse effects and solar radiation change how much carbon-14 a living organism is exposed to, which drastically changes the “starting point” from which a radiocarbon dating test is based.

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