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The Radiocarbon Revolution Since its development by Willard Libby in the 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become one of the most essential tools in archaeology.Radiocarbon dating was the first chronometric technique widely available to archaeologists and was especially useful because it allowed researchers to directly date the panoply of organic remains often found in archaeological sites including artifacts made from bone, shell, wood, and other carbon based materials.To study the core, scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland used a technique known as the online gas radiocarbon method.The technique quickly and efficiently measures radioactive carbon levels in the many layers of the sediment core.Desmond Clark (1979:7) observed that without radiocarbon dating "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation." And as Colin Renfrew (1973) aptly noted over 30 years ago, the "Radiocarbon Revolution" transformed how archaeologists could interpret the past and track cultural changes through a period in human history where we see among other things the massive migration of peoples settling virtually every major region of the world, the transition from hunting and gathering to more intensive forms of food production, and the rise of city-states.
The intense water pressure dissolves the mineralized compounds essential to the dating technique.
To perform the technique, scientists burn the organic matter in the core at different temperatures.
The stronger chemical bonds in older organic matter cause it to burn at higher temperatures.
However, there are a number of other factors that can affect the amount of carbon present in a sample and how that information is interpreted by archaeologists.
Thus a great deal of care is taken in securing and processing samples and multiple samples are often required if we want to be confident about assigning a date to a site, feature, or artifact (read more about the radiocarbon dating technique at: By comparing the different burn rates at various temperatures between two samples, scientists can estimate the age of each sediment layer.Together, the two dating methods allowed scientists to identify increases in the concentration of older organic matter and carbon at three distinct place in the core.Shell may succumb to isotopic exchange if it interacts with carbon from percolating ground acids or recrystallization when shell aragonite transforms to calcite and involves the exchange of modern calcite.