Dating organic material

The method was developed by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists.

Libby received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 1960.

The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.

These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay.

Plants and animals assimilate carbon 14 from carbon dioxide throughout their lifetimes.

He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample. Libby who first measured radiocarbon’s rate of decay and established 5568 years ± 30 years as the half-life. Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his efforts to develop radiocarbon dating.

The impact of the radiocarbon dating technique on modern man has made it one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.

No other scientific method has managed to revolutionize man’s understanding not only of his present but also of events that already happened thousands of years ago.

Based on a discipline of geology called stratigraphy, rock layers are used to decipher the sequence of historical geological events.

Relative techniques can determine the sequence of events but not the precise date of an event, making these methods unreliable.