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Thread: How accurate is CARBON DATING?

  1. #1 How accurate is CARBON DATING? 
    Forum Sophomore BioHazard's Avatar
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    Paleontologists, Anthropologists, Geologists, Climatologists, Biologists all Depend on the accuracy of this procedure. How Can it be Unaccurate? Do you trust It? What is IT Exactly?

    Also I Once dated a girl named CARBON...Sorry.


    "When man contemplates his future death, it is as if, by thinking of it, he renders it immediate. His defence is to deny it. He cannot deny that his body will die and rot - the evidence is too strong for that; so he solves the problem by the invention of the immortal soul" Desmond Morris
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    I'm not an expert on carbon dating, but one issue that confuses the accuracy is calibration. Always good to note whether C14 dates are calibrated. It's simple enough to rectify if they are not, but it can cause a great deal of confusion and apparent inaccuracy if you fail to take it into account.


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  4. #3 Re: How accurate is CARBON DATING? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by BioHazard
    Paleontologists, Anthropologists, Geologists, Climatologists, Biologists all Depend on the accuracy of this procedure. How Can it be Unaccurate? Do you trust It? What is IT Exactly?

    Also I Once dated a girl named CARBON...Sorry.
    I'm a paleontologist (geologist) and Carbon dating is rarely if ever used except in a few quartenary studies and even then it doesn't play much of a role. Carbon dating is more useful in other disciplines (anthropology, etc.) studying the recent past. Other radioactive techniques are used on the geologic timeframe....and again, not all that mainstream compared to using index fossils.

    Carbon dating is fairly accurate. The issue can be deposition and what's being measured. It's akin to watching CSI when they somehow miraculously exclude the other thousand bits of DNA from the hotel room and perform tests in minutes on 'the right' sample and then just happen to have the 'immaculate conception' data base on hand.

    If the methdology is done right then carbon dating is accurate. It's about physics and 'has to' be right. It's not the dating that's the issue but what's being dated. Sure, there might be an ancient garbage site but fire, etc. might have swept through a hundred times in the meantime...birds pooped...other animals flora died...stuff moved around by floods, storms, etc. How much integrity is there is the original material?
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    A follow up: is there a limit to how far back you can go with carbon dating? For example would a 1 billion years old rock still emit enough radiation to be dated? Or a 3 billion years old rock?
    And how about material from space, can it be dated in the same way? Maybe it 'soaked up' radiation in space, making it seem younger than it really is :wink:
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    don't count on using carbon dating beyond 50,000 years ago in most instances (maybe 100,000 if you're lucky and have good equipment)

    another thing to note is that for the last 10,000 years calibration of the carbon dating technique is possible using dendrochonology (i.e. tree rings)

    that's how it was discovered that the initial amount of C-14 can vary quite a bit (it was initially assumed to be more or less constant)
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    don't count on using carbon dating beyond 50,000 years ago in most instances (maybe 100,000 if you're lucky and have good equipment)

    another thing to note is that for the last 10,000 years calibration of the carbon dating technique is possible using dendrochonology (i.e. tree rings)

    that's how it was discovered that the initial amount of C-14 can vary quite a bit (it was initially assumed to be more or less constant)
    True.

    However, it can become a bit of a house of cards. Once taken back more than a couple thousand years then it enters the realm of 'probably'. I'd be leary of a date given as '42,000 ago' as opposed to 40 to 45 thousand years ago.

    In paleontology we're lucky to be within a couple milion years one way or another. It's not, however, much of an issue as most info only has value in relation to other info. I work mostly with upper paleozoic material and the line between the Devonian and Upper Carboniferous is quite fuzzy. Speculation up to a ten million years differences span using various radiation dating...biostratigraphy and so on. More important than absolute age is relative age and sequence of events.
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    Forum Sophomore BioHazard's Avatar
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    Thanks for the Info
    "When man contemplates his future death, it is as if, by thinking of it, he renders it immediate. His defence is to deny it. He cannot deny that his body will die and rot - the evidence is too strong for that; so he solves the problem by the invention of the immortal soul" Desmond Morris
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    I think the calibration issue is an interesting one. With regards to radiometric dating in general, we had a guest lecturer come to my uni to give a talk about various dating techniques (with a focus on tephra - but that's another story!). He said that radiometric time was nonlinear, which struck me as odd, in fact I didn't really understand it at all, but apparently when you calibrate you can often get a polymodal distribution of possible ages. He also pointed out that there are at least three major sources of error, I can't remember what they were: perhaps sampling, lab, and interpretation errors? And when you combine errors, then statistically you are on very shakey ground. All in all, the accuracy of radiometric dating in general is not that great (although it's all relative really), it depends what you need it for really, if you want to determine how the slip rate has changed over time on a fault using sediment offsets, then it's probably not gonna be good enough.
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    Forum Ph.D. Nevyn's Avatar
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    with the technology available today such as the Mass Spectrometer carbon dating has a mean error of about 1%
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nevyn
    with the technology available today such as the Mass Spectrometer carbon dating has a mean error of about 1%
    Not really. A mass Spectrometer does not calibrate. The ratio of stable and radioactive carbon in the atmosphere may have changed considerably over the last 50 thousand years. Using an M.S. is like looking at an atomic clock compared to a grandfather clock to measure time...it can give you a more accurate time 'now' but doesn't tell you much more about how much time went by since Columbus landed in America.
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    To determine time since death, you need to know both the decay rate and the initial amount of C14 (it's amazing how few people ever talk about these 2 parameters, both of which are equally important. The decay rate alone doesn't tell you anything.). I don't see a problem with the accuracy of carbon decay. In my view that's an insignificant issue compared to the uncertainty in the initial amount. Maybe I placed my thread in the wrong category:

    http://www.thescienceforum.com/How-d...work-6253t.php
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    Hi, new freshman.

    Happen to see another radiocarbon dating thread here.'

    Could be useful perhaps.
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    If the methdology is done right then carbon dating is accurate. It's about physics and 'has to' be right. It's not the dating that's the issue but what's being dated. Sure, there might be an ancient garbage site but fire, etc. might have swept through a hundred times in the meantime...birds pooped...other animals flora died...stuff moved around by floods, storms, etc. How much integrity is there is the original material?
    In other words, surely this means that it's completely inaccurate as it is totally impossible what the original conditions were for any object, even relatively recent ones!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sisyphus View Post
    In other words, surely this means that it's completely inaccurate as it is totally impossible what the original conditions were for any object, even relatively recent ones!
    That is the "if we don't know everything, then we can't know anything" argument. It doesn't hold up. Accuracy, isn't like truth; it is a relative measurement. The better you are able to account for the initial conditions and other factors, the more accurate the result will be. And these things are never done in isolation. There will be information from other sources that will answer some of these questions. There are other dating methods that will be used to cross-check, etc.
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sisyphus View Post
    If the methdology is done right then carbon dating is accurate. It's about physics and 'has to' be right. It's not the dating that's the issue but what's being dated. Sure, there might be an ancient garbage site but fire, etc. might have swept through a hundred times in the meantime...birds pooped...other animals flora died...stuff moved around by floods, storms, etc. How much integrity is there is the original material?
    In other words, surely this means that it's completely inaccurate as it is totally impossible what the original conditions were for any object, even relatively recent ones!
    Very few analyses are completely accurate and tell the entire story. That is why scientists work together and combine their fields' methodologies to develop a picture of the past. For instance, my current project combines my work in land use analysis from sediment cores with the work of historians and geographers in an attempt to better understand certain Amerindian activities and their impacts on the environment.

    When I do my work, I don't run magnetic susceptibility tests and say, "Yeah, that's all I need to know." I also run BD and LOI tests, grain size analysis, imaging, etc. Carbon dating is just another part of the puzzle.
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  17. #16  
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    How accurate is CARBON DATING?
    A better question would be, how effective is it against speed dating? Am I right? LOL
    or
    I'm not into Carbon dating, I'm more of a one night stand, kinda guy!

    And other puns!


    but seriously
    How accurate is CARBON DATING?
    More accurate than the Bible... *Ba dum chee*
    Thank you very much folks, I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your waiter!!
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by grmpysmrf View Post
    How accurate is CARBON DATING? A better question would be, how effective is it against speed dating? Am I right? LOLorI'm not into Carbon dating, I'm more of a one night stand, kinda guy!Have you thought about seeking help? There are some very good psychologists out there, ready to offer assistance to those as clearly challenged as you areAnd other puns! but seriously How accurate is CARBON DATING? More accurate than the Bible... *Ba dum chee*Thank you very much folks, I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your waiter!!
    Have you ever thought about seeking help? There are plenty of very good psychologists out there who would be more than willing to offer therapy for someone so obviously challenged
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  19. #18  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sisyphus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by grmpysmrf View Post
    How accurate is CARBON DATING? A better question would be, how effective is it against speed dating? Am I right? LOLorI'm not into Carbon dating, I'm more of a one night stand, kinda guy!Have you thought about seeking help? There are some very good psychologists out there, ready to offer assistance to those as clearly challenged as you areAnd other puns! but seriously How accurate is CARBON DATING? More accurate than the Bible... *Ba dum chee*Thank you very much folks, I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your waiter!!
    Have you ever thought about seeking help? There are plenty of very good psychologists out there who would be more than willing to offer therapy for someone so obviously challenged
    Wow, tough crowd.
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  20. #19  
    ▼▼ dn ʎɐʍ sıɥʇ ▼▼ RedPanda's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grmpysmrf View Post
    Wow, tough crowd.
    That's what you get for posting Bad Jokes.
    SayBigWords.com/say/3FC

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  21. #20  
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by grmpysmrf View Post
    Wow, tough crowd.
    That's what you get for posting Bad Jokes.
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