# Radiometric dating used to date fossils and archeology

### Radiometric dating - Wikipedia

China hosts 20 million years of early Cretaceous era fossils, including Radiocarbon dating involves determining the age of an ancient fossil or antler or one of many other carbonates may be dated using this technique. Chronometric dating has revolutionized archaeology by allowing highly accurate dating of How Is Radioactive Dating Used to Date Fossils?. Using relative and radiometric dating methods, geologists are able to answer the Numerical ages estimate the date of a geological event and can sometimes reveal Third, magnetism in rocks can be used to estimate the age of a fossil site . .. P.R., Swisher, C.C. 40Ar/39Ar dating in paleoanthropology and archaeology.

It is based on the fact that trees produce one growth ring each year. The rings form a distinctive pattern, which is the same for all members in a given species and geographical area.

The patterns from trees of different ages including ancient wood are overlapped, forming a master pattern that can be used to date timbers thousands of years old with a resolution of one year.

Timbers can be used to date buildings and archaeological sites. In addition, tree rings are used to date changes in the climate such as sudden cool or dry periods. Dendrochronology has a range of one to 10, years or more.

## How Do Scientists Date Ancient Things?

As previously mentioned, radioactive decay refers to the process in which a radioactive form of an element is converted into a decay product at a regular rate. Radioactive decay dating is not a single method of absolute dating but instead a group of related methods for absolute dating of samples. Potassium-argon dating relies on the fact that when volcanic rocks are heated to extremely high temperatures, they release any argon gas trapped in them.

As the rocks cool, argon 40Ar begins to accumulate. Argon is formed in the rocks by the radioactive decay of potassium 40K. The amount of 40Ar formed is proportional to the decay rate half-life of 40K, which is 1. In other words, it takes 1. This method is generally only applicable to rocks greater than three million years old, although with sensitive instruments, rocks several hundred thousand years old may be dated. The reason such old material is required is that it takes a very long time to accumulate enough 40Ar to be measured accurately.

Potassium-argon dating has been used to date volcanic layers above and below fossils and artifacts in east Africa.

Radiocarbon dating is used to date charcoal, wood, and other biological materials. The range of conventional radiocarbon dating is 30,—40, years, but with sensitive instrumentation, this range can be extended to 70, years.

Radiocarbon 14C is a radioactive form of the element carbon. It decays spontaneously into nitrogen 14N. Plants get most of their carbon from the air in the form of carbon dioxideand animals get most of their carbon from plants or from animals that eat plants. Relative to their atmospheric proportions, atoms of 14C and of a non-radioactive form of carbon, 12C, are equally likely to be incorporated into living organisms.

When the organism dies, however, its body stops incorporating new carbon. The ratio will then begin to change as the 14C in the dead organism decays into 14N. The rate at which this process occurs is called the half-life. This is the time required for half of the 14C to decay into 14N. The half-life of 14C is 5, years. This allows them to determine how much 14C has formed since the death of the organism.

One of the most familiar applications of radioactive dating is determining the age of fossilized remains, such as dinosaur bones. Radioactive dating is also used to authenticate the age of rare archaeological artifacts. Because items such as paper documents and cotton garments are produced from plants, they can be dated using radiocarbon dating.

Without radioactive datinga clever forgery might be indistinguishable from a real artifact. There are some limitations, however, to the use of this technique. Samples that were heated or irradiated at some time may yield by radioactive dating an age less than the true age of the object. Because of this limitation, other dating techniques are often used along with radioactive dating to ensure accuracy.

Uranium series dating techniques rely on the fact that radioactive uranium and thorium isotopes decay into a series of unstable, radioactive "daughter" isotopes; this process continues until a stable non-radioactive lead isotope is formed. The daughters have relatively short half-lives ranging from a few hundred thousand years down to only a few years. The "parent" isotopes have half-lives of several billion years.

This provides a dating range for the different uranium series of a few thousand years toyears. Uranium series have been used to date uranium-rich rocks, deep-sea sediments, shells, bones, and teeth, and to calculate the ages of ancient lakebeds. The two types of uranium series dating techniques are daughter deficiency methods and daughter excess methods.

In daughter deficiency situations, the parent radioisotope is initially deposited by itself, without its daughter the isotope into which it decays present. Through time, the parent decays to the daughter until the two are in equilibrium equal amounts of each. The age of the deposit may be determined by measuring how much of the daughter has formed, providing that neither isotope has entered or exited the deposit after its initial formation.

Living mollusks and corals will only take up dissolved compounds such as isotopes of uranium, so they will contain no protactinium, which is insoluble.

Protactinium begins to accumulate via the decay of U after the organism dies. Scientists can determine the age of the sample by measuring how much Pa is present and calculating how long it would have taken that amount to form.

In the case of daughter excess, a larger amount of the daughter is initially deposited than the parent. Non-uranium daughters such as protactinium and thorium are insoluble, and precipitate out on the bottoms of bodies of water, forming daughter excesses in these sediments. Over time, the excess daughter disappears as it is converted back into the parent, and by measuring the extent to which this has occurred, scientists can date the sample. If the radioactive daughter is an isotope of uranium, it will dissolve in water, but to a different extent than the parent; the two are said to have different solubilities.

For example, U dissolves more readily in water than its parent, U, so lakes and oceans contain an excess of this daughter isotope. The techniques can be extended to date a wide range of man-made materials as well.

Because radioactive elements have various half-lives, there are numerous different methods that apply to different timescales. Among the best-known techniques are radiocarbon dating, uranium-lead dating and potassium-argon dating. Radiocarbon dating Carbon is the basic building block of organic compounds and is therefore an essential part of life on earth. Natural carbon contains two stable isotopes 12C Carbon meaning all three isotopes is absorbed by living organisms, and continuously replenished during their life cycle.

However, when an organism dies, this process stops. The unstable 14C decays into 14N via beta decay electron emissionand the 14C content decreases exponentially with time. By measuring how much 14C is left undecayed at a given moment in time, one can work out how long ago the organism has died. Radiocarbon dating was developed in the s, with Willard Libby receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the use of 14C to determine age in archaeology, geology, geophysics and many other branches of science.

However, radiocarbon dating does have its limitations. Calibrating 14C dating For many years it was assumed that the content of 14C in the atmosphere was constant. We now know that the Earth and solar magnetic fields are changing in time.

This means that the flux of cosmic rays impinging on the atmosphere varies, and therefore so does the 14C production rate. That makes it necessary to calibrate the 14C dates according to other techniques. One such technique is the dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating. The dendrochronology involves obtaining a horizontal cross-section of the main trunk of a tree and analysing the visible rings caused by the natural plant growth.

These rings result from the change in growth speed through the seasons of the year, with each ring usually marking the passage of one year in the life of the tree. This technique works best in temperate climates where the seasons differ more markedly, and, obviously, one can only date back a few hundred years as very old trees are rare. Cave paintings datred with 14C.

Image courtesy of N. Radiocarbon dating can even be used to date more unusual archaeological finds. In September two mountain hikers discovered the body of a man sticking half-way out from the ice in a mountainous region of the Alps. The uncalibrated age is years. Analysis of the corpse revealed astonishing detail about his life. He had eaten porridge of einkorn a type of wheatvegetables and meat recently before his death. After an organism has been dead for 60, years, so little carbon is left that accurate dating cannot be established.

On the other hand, the concentration of carbon falls off so steeply that the age of relatively young remains can be determined precisely to within a few decades. Closure temperature If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionsetting the isotopic "clock" to zero.

The temperature at which this happens is known as the closure temperature or blocking temperature and is specific to a particular material and isotopic system. These temperatures are experimentally determined in the lab by artificially resetting sample minerals using a high-temperature furnace. As the mineral cools, the crystal structure begins to form and diffusion of isotopes is less easy.

At a certain temperature, the crystal structure has formed sufficiently to prevent diffusion of isotopes. This temperature is what is known as closure temperature and represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system to isotopes.

Thus an igneous or metamorphic rock or melt, which is slowly cooling, does not begin to exhibit measurable radioactive decay until it cools below the closure temperature. The age that can be calculated by radiometric dating is thus the time at which the rock or mineral cooled to closure temperature. This field is known as thermochronology or thermochronometry.

The age is calculated from the slope of the isochron line and the original composition from the intercept of the isochron with the y-axis. The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value No.

The above equation makes use of information on the composition of parent and daughter isotopes at the time the material being tested cooled below its closure temperature. This is well-established for most isotopic systems. Plotting an isochron is used to solve the age equation graphically and calculate the age of the sample and the original composition.

Modern dating methods[ edit ] Radiometric dating has been carried out since when it was invented by Ernest Rutherford as a method by which one might determine the age of the Earth. In the century since then the techniques have been greatly improved and expanded. The mass spectrometer was invented in the s and began to be used in radiometric dating in the s.

It operates by generating a beam of ionized atoms from the sample under test. The ions then travel through a magnetic field, which diverts them into different sampling sensors, known as " Faraday cups ", depending on their mass and level of ionization.

### Dating in Archaeology | The Canadian Encyclopedia

On impact in the cups, the ions set up a very weak current that can be measured to determine the rate of impacts and the relative concentrations of different atoms in the beams. Uranium—lead dating method[ edit ] Main article: Uranium—lead dating A concordia diagram as used in uranium—lead datingwith data from the Pfunze BeltZimbabwe.

This scheme has been refined to the point that the error margin in dates of rocks can be as low as less than two million years in two-and-a-half billion years. Zircon has a very high closure temperature, is resistant to mechanical weathering and is very chemically inert.

Zircon also forms multiple crystal layers during metamorphic events, which each may record an isotopic age of the event. This can be seen in the concordia diagram, where the samples plot along an errorchron straight line which intersects the concordia curve at the age of the sample. Samarium—neodymium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Samarium—neodymium dating This involves the alpha decay of Sm to Nd with a half-life of 1.

Accuracy levels of within twenty million years in ages of two-and-a-half billion years are achievable. Potassium—argon dating This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1. Rubidium—strontium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Rubidium—strontium dating This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontiumwith a half-life of 50 billion years. This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocksand has also been used to date lunar samples.