Dating methods other than carbon




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Generally speaking, the more complex a poem or piece of pottery is, the more advanced it is and the later it falls in the chronology.


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  2. Principal cosmogenic and uranium-thorium series radioisotopes;
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Egyptologists, for example, created a relative chronology of pre-pharaonic Egypt based on increasing complexity in ceramics found at burial sites. Sometimes called carbon dating, this method works on organic material.

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Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die. Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon in their remains decreases. Measuring carbon in bones or a piece of wood provides an accurate date, but only within a limited range. It would be like having a watch that told you day and night.

Also called single crystal argon or argon-argon Ar-Ar dating, this method is a refinement of an older approach known as potassium-argon K-Ar dating, which is still sometimes used. Both methods date rock instead of organic material. As potassium decays, it turns into argon. But unlike radiocarbon dating, the older the sample, the more accurate the dating — researchers typically use these methods on finds at least , years old.

While K-Ar dating requires destroying large samples to measure potassium and argon levels separately, Ar-Ar dating can analyze both at once with a single, smaller sample.

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The uranium-thorium method is often helpful for dating finds in the 40, to ,year-old range, too old for radiocarbon but too young for K-Ar or Ar-Ar. Silicate rocks, like quartz, are particularly good at trapping electrons. Researchers who work with prehistoric tools made from flint — a hardened form of quartz — often use thermoluminescence TL to tell them not the age of the rock, but of the tool.


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  • After shaping flint, toolmakers typically dropped the rocks into a fire. Archaeologists also frequently use TL to date ceramics, which are also exposed to high temperatures during manufacture. Similar to TL, optically stimulated luminescence measures when quartz crystals in certain kinds of rock last saw sunlight. That emitted light, the signal, can be used to calculate when the sample was last exposed to sunlight. ESR, which measures trapped electrons using magnetic fields, is related to magnetic resonance imaging, the medical technique that allows doctors to look for tumors or peek inside your creaking knee.

    By Gemma Tarlach Wednesday, June 01, Whenever possible, researchers use one or more absolute dating methods, which provide an age for the actual fossil or artifact. Unlike observation-based relative dating, most absolute methods require some of the find to be destroyed by heat or other means.

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    Certain unstable isotopes of trace radioactive elements in both organic and inorganic materials decay into stable isotopes. This happens at known rates.

    Absolute Dating Methods Radiocarbon Dating

    By measuring the proportion of different isotopes present, researchers can figure out how old the material is. Here are some of the most common radiometric methods: Over time, certain kinds of rocks and organic material, such as coral and teeth, are very good at trapping electrons from sunlight and cosmic rays pummeling Earth. Also, tritium levels in the atmosphere went way up around the 50s due to nuclear weapons testing, and this is used for testing the age of groundwater, since anything with high tritium levels must have entered the ground within the last several decades.

    Other things relate to physical, chemical, or biological processes.

    Dating methods

    Lichenometry literally just involves measuring the size of lichens that grow on rocks. Some of the others, like amino acid racemization, involve estimating rates of chemical reactions. Dendrochronology is counting tree rings and correlating them across different trees and wood samples the width of tree rings is related to what the weather conditions were like that year, so if you take a bunch of trees from a region you can match variations in ring width to the weather patterns over a course of decades. You can also count annual layers in other organisms sclerochronology , ice cores , or lake sediment varves.

    Stratigraphy, paleontology, and tephrochronology all sort of go together. Stratigraphy involves studying layers of sediment, which usually allows you to figure out what came first even if you can't put numbers on it, and then if you find comparable layers somewhere else you can often infer that they're around the same age.

    If you find a fossil or artifact in some sediment and you can identify it as a snail that only lived million years ago or a style of pottery that was only made around BC, then you know how old the sediment is. Tephrochronology is the study of ash layers from volcanic eruptions, which is one of the best techniques for putting absolute dates on that stuff because you can accurately date ash layers using radiometric techniques and use that to narrow down the ages of the layers above or below them. When you say paleontology, do you mean by finding remains of creatures within a known time frame, and then using it as a reference point?

    Yes, exactly biostratigraphy - at least primarily. There are other aspects to it I am less familiar with such as estimating age of a new organism based on the fossil characteristics. As you would expect, that is a much rougher approach, and as far as I am aware very rarely actually useful. The paleontology subfield is one I haven't really delved into much, so I would be out of line to say anything about it with too much confidence. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement and Privacy Policy.

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