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Even then, a large proportion of radiocarbon dating tests return inconsistent, or even incoherent, results, even for tests done on the same sample.
The explanation given for these outliers is usually “contamination.” Inconsistent results are another reason why multiple samples, multiples tests, and various parallel methods are used to date objects.
So even brand-new samples contain incredibly tiny quantities of radiocarbon.
Eventually, the amount of carbon-14 remaining is so small that it’s all but undetectable.
Scientists must assume how much carbon-14 was in the organism when it died.
Complicating matters is the fact that Earth’s carbon-14 concentrations change drastically based on various factors.
Due to all these factors, it’s common for carbon dating results of a particular sample, or even a group of samples, to be rejected for the sole reason that they don’t align with the “expected” results.
This provides good information, but it only indicates how long ago that piece of wood was cut from a living tree.
If the spear head is dated using animal bones nearby, the accuracy of the results is entirely dependent on the assumed link between the spear head and the animal.
This is perhaps the greatest point of potential error, as assumptions about dating can lead to circular reasoning, or choosing confirming results, rather than accepting a “wrong” date.
Several factors affect radiocarbon test results, not all of which are easy to control objectively.
For this reason, it’s preferable to date objects using multiple methods, rather than relying on one single test.