SITE VISIT: Dating Game

Science  16 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5426, pp. 295
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5426.295d

Ever since chemist Willard Libby invented it after World War II, radiocarbon dating has been a boon to science. The technique has helped experts debunk the Shroud of Turin that supposedly covered Christ, for example (the cloth is only 650 years old), and date the 5300-year-old Ice Man found frozen in the Italian Alps in 1991. A wealth of information on this versatile test can be found at the Radiocarbon Web-info site.

There's something here for everyone, from kids curious about how radiocarbon dating works (by calculating how long it would take carbon-14 in samples of plants or animals to have decayed to current levels) to archaeologists who need to know what can throw off a sample's date (like a nearby CO2-belching volcano). Web master Tom Higham of the Radiocarbon Lab at the University of Waikato in New Zealand wrote many of the 50-some pages himself, covering topics such as the method's history and how to decontaminate samples. An applications section leads to sites on dating the Dead Sea scrolls, reconstructing the ancient vegetation of the Americas, and much more. Other outside links include the world's 130 radiocarbon labs and a primer at Oxford University on how tree rings are used to calibrate dates.

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