Radiocarbon dating is a method of determining the age of samples that contain carbon-14 (C-14). Radiocarbon dating is also known as C-14 dating and carbon dating.
This article, like many others on the website, is a work in progress. For now it is mainly a collection of my brief notes.
1939: Willard Libby (1908-1980) first had the idea to use C-14 for dating purposes.[8, p.536]
1940: Martin Kamen (1913-2002) and Samuel Ruben (1913-1943) discovered C-14 after they artificially created it.
1945: Willard Libby (1908-1980) began his research that led to the invention of radiocarbon dating.
1946: Libby published his idea about obtaining dates by observing the decay of C-14 in the journal Physical Review.
“To test the technique, Libby’s group applied the anti-coincidence counter to samples whose ages were already known. Among the first objects tested were samples of redwood and fir trees, the age of which were known by counting their annual growth rings.”
1949: Libby published in the journal Science the results of his studies which proved radiocarbon dating to be useful.
1961: Mann, et al. established the C-14 half-life as 5760 ± 50 years.[6, p.57]
1966: There were about 50 labs world-wide conducting around 2000 determinations per year.
1977: Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) was first used for measuring C-14.[8, p.536]
“The half-life of carbon 14 has been the subject of many determinations, the values of which have ranged from a high of 7,200 to a low of 4,700 years.”
– Manov & Curtiss (1951)[5, p.328]
“The half-life of carbon 14 has been determined by gas counting of C*O2 + CS2 mixtures (where C*O2 is used to designate inert carbon dioxide containing some C14O2) by using pairs of counters that are identical in construction except for the length of the cathodes.”
– Manov & Curtiss (1951)[5, p.328]
The above figures are repeated by Mann, et al. (1961).[6, p.58]
5370 ± 200 years,[5, p.328] 5568,[6, p.58] 5760 ± 50 years[6, p.57]
Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS)
Anti-Coincidence Counter (ACC), Anticoincidence system (A/C)[8, p.536]
Geiger Counter: an instrument that detects radiation.
Liquid Scintillation Counter (LSC)
Beta Analytic Testing Laboratory: https://www.radiocarbon.com/
Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory: https://radiocarbondating.com/
Last time I checked, the journal Radiocarbon listed 45 labs: http://radiocarbon.webhost.uits.arizona.edu/node/11. They also had a link to what looked like hundreds of labs: http://radiocarbon.webhost.uits.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/Labs-2021_Jan-19.pdf.
Radiocarbon, An International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research: http://radiocarbon.webhost.uits.arizona.edu/
“Scientists have used carbon-14 dating to identify bottles of counterfeit Scotch Whisky, which, contrary to what their label says, were produced after the nuclear tests were conducted.”
“The carbon-14 dating methods too frequently gives results in conflict with archeologically established chronologies. Not only is the spread of radiocarbon ages great, but there is a systematic deviation of 200-400 years, usually on the young side. Examples of the conflict are given. Sources of error are examined, with emphasis on subjectivism in the radiocarbon method (even in its very mechanism), and contamination of the atmosphere. The radiocarbon method is certainly very promising and deserving of development, but it should concentrate on studying distorting effects rather than accumulating dates for immediate application to archeology…”
– Dorothy B. Vitaliano (1966)[3, p.1042]
Has the focus on distortions improved/developed over the past 50 some years? If so, where is the literature on that?
“Indeed, in some cultural periods where checks are possible, using material which can be closely dated on other evidence, as for example in Egypt in the third millennium B.C., some of the discrepancies between archeological and radiocarbon dates are so large as to cast doubt on the validity of the method. Inevitably, therefore, there has arisen some loss of confidence in the method, and a tendency has been noted on the part of some archeologists to accept as valid only those dates which happen to confirm their own opinions.”
– Harold Barker (1972)[4, p.178]
Sources of errors and the range of those errors were discussed by Barker:[4, p.179]
1 – Archeological (“Indeterminate. From a few years to many hundreds”)
2 – Environmental contamination (typically small errors). How small?
3 – Human (“Indeterminate — can be disastrously large at time) How large?
4 – Laboratory measurements (Usually plus or minus 50 years upwards)
5 – Inherent
5a – Value of C-14 half-life (results based on the old half-life are likely about 3 percent too low)
5b – Isotopic fractionation In nature (typically minor, sometimes plus or minus 80 years, rarely plus or minus 200)
5c – Variations in level of radiocarbon in the exchange reservoir (Variable, as high as 600 years)
“Human Errors … can in fact arise when samples submitted to the laboratory have been badly or wrongly labelled.”
– Harold Barker (1972)[4, p.180]
How does improper labelling affect the dating of the sample? Isn’t the sample the same regardless of how it’s labelled? Human errors are the type which allegedly cause the most confusion and so it’s weird to me that Barker only allotted a single, short paragraph of only 3 sentences to this type of error, as opposed to the 4th and 5th types which each get over a page of commentary.
“Fundamental to calculations of radiocarbon dates is the assumption that the level of radiocarbon in the world-wide carbon exchange reservoir is uniformly distributed and has remained constant throughout the period covered by the method (the past 50,000 years or so).”
– Harold Barker (1972)[4, p.183]
Barker discusses C-14 fluctuations on [4, p.184] and brings up how dendrochronology was needed to help edit the results of tests. How independent of a dating method can this be if it’s dependent on dendrochronology?
The end of Barker’s article claims that the article “deals in detail with the various factors which affect the accuracy of radiocarbon dates.”[4, p.187] I can’t accept this as he glossed over the most important and largest issue with C-14 dating, namely human error. There was only one example given of human error and no discussion at all about how large the errors are or any other things people can do to distort the date. Is mislabeling the only thing humans do to cause errors in the dates? I can’t imagine this is so.
“…it is now known that the most serious limitation on the accuracy obtainable by the radiocarbon method is set by the fact that the level of radiocarbon in the carbon exchange reservoir has not been constant in the past.”
– Harold Barker (1972)[4, p.187]
“Other experts have noted that ancient cloths often date later in radiocarbon analysis than their actual origins, due to bacterial contamination. (It’s a common problem, for instance, in dating ancient manuscripts.)”
John L. Allen Jr. (2013)
Hessel de Vries. “Variation in Concentration of Radiocarbon with Time and Location on Earth” (1958). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Variation_in_Concentration_of_Radiocarbo/kfbgSAAACAAJ?hl=en
Ralph & Stuckenrath. “Carbon-14 Measurements of Known Age Samples” (1960). https://www.nature.com/articles/188185a0
Willis, E., Tauber, H., & Münnich, K. (1960). Variations in the Atmospheric Radiocarbon Concentration over the Past 1300 Years. Radiocarbon,2, 1-4. doi:10.1017/S1061592X00020548 – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/variations-in-the-atmospheric-radiocarbon-concentration-over-the-past-1300-years/7B648E6BDD8BE10233D2F23CBFBB09AC
Hans E. Suess. “Secular variations of the cosmic‐ray‐produced carbon 14 in the atmosphere and their interpretations” (1965). https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/JZ070i023p05937
Damon, et al. “Fluctuation of atmospheric C14 during the last six millennia” (1966). https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/JZ071i004p01055
Stuiver, M., & Suess, H. (1966). On the Relationship Between Radiocarbon Dates and True Sample Ages. Radiocarbon, 8, 534-540. doi:10.1017/S0033822200000345 – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/on-the-relationship-between-radiocarbon-dates-and-true-sample-ages/10FA2F25F6C28F3D3EB9B7F63AA4AB2A
Ralph & Michael. “Problems of the Radiocarbon Calendar” (1967). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-4754.1967.tb00607.x
Suess H.E. (1968) Climatic Changes, Solar Activity, and the Cosmic-Ray Production Rate of Natural Radiocarbon. In: Mitchell J.M. (eds) Causes of Climatic Change. Meteorological Monographs, vol 8. American Meteorological Society, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-935704-38-6_17 – https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-935704-38-6_17#citeas
Damon, et al. “Temporal Fluctuations of Atmospheric 14C: Causal Factors and Implications” (1978). http://adsabs.harvard.edu/pdf/1978AREPS…6..457D
“…the very results of dating – the appearance of the chronological scheme obtained – are influenced by the subjective views of the researchers. So, for example, in Groningen, where the archaeologist Becker has long adhered to a short chronology, and radiocarbon dates “; for some reason”; are low, while in Schleswig and Heidelberg, where Schwabe-Dissen and others have long tended to a long chronology, and radioactive dates for similar materials are much higher. Is this a coincidence? The same difference between Swiss laboratories. Where is the vaunted objectivity of physics here?”
L. S. Kleyn (1966)
“Meanwhile, of course, if we compare individual measurements of ancient objects with individual measurements of modern objects or even modern averages, we get those witty paradoxes with which Miloichich amused readers, but if we compare the averages obtained on large series of ancient samples of the same type with modern averages, then many small individual deviations of radioactivity in both directions, due to the randomness of the spread, should be mutually destroyed, leveled, and as a result, the difference between both averages (modern and obtained at ancient objects) will give the true age of the find. “; One date is not a date”; – this is how the physicist Waterbolk formulated this rule.
Citing the divergent dates of one piece of wood, then one monument, etc., Milojcic asserts: “; The historian cannot recognize all these dates as correct, he must choose one. And the physicist calmly recognizes all these dates as correct, calculating the average”; … But, for Miloicic, if this average is obtained from many unrealistic dates, then it itself is not real. “; This example,” deduces the morality Miloichich, “shows how different languages the physicist and the historian speak!”
L. S. Kleyn (1966)
“But here’s what is curious: the simultaneous annual rings of American and European trees received different radiocarbon dates…”
L. S. Kleyn (1966)
Are there any lists that summarize a wide range of carbon dates? Possibly age results listed by study from youngest to oldest.
What are the variables that have to be accounted for when dating?
What are things that are known to distort the dates?
What are the requirements to work in a C-14 lab? Do the requirements vary from lab to lab?
Do the dates get averaged as Kleyn reported? If so, why is this? Why not report each of the dates separately?
How is the confidence level determined?
Have any professionals responded to C-14 Crash? If so, where is the response?
How many objects of known date have been dated compared to objects of unknown date?
Large list of his works: https://academictree.org/chemistry/publications.php?pid=50509
“Atmospheric Helium Three and Radiocarbon from Cosmic Radiation” (Phys. Rev. 69, 671 – Published 1 June 1946). https://journals.aps.org/pr/abstract/10.1103/PhysRev.69.671.2
Five groups of 1000 samples consisting of multiple types of dead plants and animals, all of known age. Each group is assigned to one of the 5 climates, those being tropical, dry, temperate, continental, and polar. Conduct testing every 5 years to examine decay.
Similar to test one but with manuscripts.
Make a list of:
1 – All the laboratories and their foundation dates. Organize by earliest to latest.
2 – Available carbon dating results organized by the date of result
3 – Available carbon dating results organized by the date of publication
4 – Available carbon dating results organized by topic + date of result or date of publication
 – American Chemical Society. “Willard Libby and Radiocarbon Dating” (2016). https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/radiocarbon-dating.html. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.
 – Jennifer Leman. “Murder! Espionage! Cosmic Rays! The History of Carbon-14 Is Way More Thrilling Than You Think” (25 Feb. 2020). https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/archaeology/a31043027/carbon-14-history/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
 – “Geophysical Abstracts: Issues 234-239” (July, 1966). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Geophysical_Abstracts/YzrUpje-u7sC?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
 – Barker, Harold. “The Accuracy of Radiocarbon Dates.” The Journal of African History, vol. 13, no. 2, 1972, pp. 177–187. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/180850. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
 – George G. Manov and Leon F. Curtiss. “The Half-Life of Carbon 14” (Apr. 1951). https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/jres/46/jresv46n4p328_A1b.pdf. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
 – Mann, W B, Marlow, W F, and Hughes, E E. THE HALF-LIFE OF CARBON-14. Country unknown/Code not available: N. p., 1961. Web. doi:10.1016/0020-708X(61)90132-6. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
 – Kleyn, L. S, Arkheologiya sporit s fizikoy – Spor o dostovernosti i tochnosti radiouglerodnoy khronologii [Archeology argues with physics – The controversy over the reliability and accuracy of radiocarbon chronology]: Priroda. no. 2. p.51-62, and no. 3. p.94-107, illus., 1966. https://textarchive.ru/c-2179111-pall.html. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
 – Jull, A., Pearson, C., Taylor, R., Southon, J., Santos, G., Kohl, C., . . . Major, I. (25 Apr. 2018). Radiocarbon Dating and Intercomparison of Some Early Historical Radiocarbon Samples. Radiocarbon, 60(2), 535-548. doi:10.1017/RDC.2018.18 – https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christopher-Baisan/publication/324749521_Radiocarbon_Dating_and_Intercomparison_of_Some_Early_Historical_Radiocarbon_Samples/links/5af8cef70f7e9b026bf02830/Radiocarbon-Dating-and-Intercomparison-of-Some-Early-Historical-Radiocarbon-Samples.pdf. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
 – Rainer Berger. “Suess’ “”Wiggles and Deviations”” Proven by Historical and Archaeological Means” (30 Jun. 1985). http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1985Metic..20..395B. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.
 – John L. Allen Jr. “Pope Francis and the Shroud of Turin” (1 Apr. 2013). https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pope-francis-and-shroud-turin. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021.
 – “How Does Carbon Dating Work” https://www.radiocarbon.com/about-carbon-dating.htm. Accessed 5 Apr. 2021.
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