The burning of fossil fuels is altering the ratio of carbon in the atmosphere, which may cause objects tested in the coming decades to seem hundreds or thousands of years older than they actually are, according a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A cotton T-shirt manufactured and tested in 2050 may appear to be the same age as an artifact from the 11th century when dated using the radiocarbon method.
Radiocarbon dating has been helping put the planet’s history in the right order since it was first invented in the 1940s, giving scientists a key way to determine the age of artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Shroud of Turin.
Thanks to fossil fuel emissions, though, the method used to date these famous artifacts may be in for a change.
amount of radiocarbon, or carbon-14, remaining in an object to determine its approximate age.
Radiocarbon is a radioactive form of carbon that’s created when nitrogen reacts with cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere.
Mass spectometer The new technology uses a quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS) which will reduce the time it takes to obtain data for a bone sample to just two days.
Significantly the technology can also be utilised onsite, and this is the first time this has been attempted.
Radiocarbon dating is used to determine the age of ancient objects by means of measuring the amount of carbon-14 remaining in a sample.
However it is an expensive process which takes place offsite and typically takes six weeks or more which means that an excavation is likely to be over before the important dating information can be obtained.
It occurs only in trace amounts, but it is present in every living thing.