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Archaeology 2 THZ

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating

Radicarbon Dating
(Carbon-14 Dating)

Submitted to: Sir Leee Anthony Neri

Submitted by: Hercy Limbawan Adriel Vincent Te Archaeology 2 THZ

12 July 2012

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Archaeology 2 THZ

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating


Methods and Principles Brief History Willard F. Libby was an American physical chemist who first established the idea and procedure for radiocarbon dating. He was able to determine the half-life of Carbon-14 to be 5568 years by measuring the Carbon-14 content of organic materials with known age, or ages estimated with other means. However after about 50,000 years, there was so little Carbon-14 content in the specimen that it is so difficult, almost impossible to calculate its age. [1] Basic Principle The radioactive isotope of carbon, Carbon-14, is formed when atmospheric nitrogen reacts with cosmic radiations in the upper atmosphere. The radioactive carbon combines with oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide (CO2), which mixes rapidly within the surroundings, and all living things attain a known equilibrium concentration. [2] When the organism dies, the exchange of atoms is no longer maintained, thus the Carbon-14 decays at a rate such that its concentration is reduced to one half of its initial value [2] in about 5730 years[3], which is also known as the half-life. The process of production, distribution and decay of Carbon-14 is best illustrated in Figure 1.
[3]

Figure 1. Production, distribution and decay of the Carbon-14.

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Archaeology 2 THZ

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating

This principle is the basis for using C-14 Dating as a tool to determine the age of organic matters such as wood, charcoal, peat, humus, marsh gas, bone, ivory, tissue, horn, hair, mollusk shells, egg shells, secondary carbonate, soil and sediment, as well as groundwater and ice, in the age range of 300-50000 years. [4] The age of these organic matters which has already lost C-14 by decay can be calculated using the formula:

where is the C-14 activity of the sample, is the initial C-14 activity of a standard or a substance with an age of zero, and is the conventional half-life. [4] Sample Sizes It is important that an adequate size of sample be collected and submitted because the minimum amount of specimen needed differs from one type of organic material to another, depending on the concentration of carbon each contains. [2] The carbon content and sample sizes of common types of samples are tabulated in Table 1. Table 1. Carbon content and sample size of common types of samples. [4] Sample size Type of sample C content, % Usual minimum Charcoal (dry) 50-90 3-6 g 50mg 1mg Wood, peat, grain, tissue 10-50 6-50 g 2-25 mg (dry) Wood, peat (moist) 2-10 30-150 g 10-125 mg Sediment, soil 0.2-5 50-1500 g 20mg 1g Bone, teeth 1-5 60-300 g 20-300 mg Carbonates: coral, ooids, 10 30 g 25 mg travertine, speleothem Groundwater 10-2 50-200 L 50-200 mL It is often that a lot of materials are removed from the pretreatment of samples, so it is important to have enough amounts of samples. Pretreatment of Samples The samples must be cleaned prior to analysis so that there will be no other material on them that might cause errors in the age reading. One would probably have a larger age reading of a certain sample due to improper pretreatment and presence of contaminants. [3] Most laboratories adopt a standard procedure which involves soaking the sample in dilute hydrochloric acid (HCl), distilled water, dilute sodium hydroxide (NaOH), dilute water, HCl, and then water again until the washings are neutral. The addition of acid removes carbonates from hard water, soil, wind and dust. The addition of base removes many soluble organic materials such as fatty acids. [3]

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Archaeology 2 THZ

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating

However, procedures are often modified depending on the substance being analyzed, in order to remove components that are pretty unique to that kind of substance. Examples include the hydroxyapatite of bones and the thick carbonate layers of corals. [3] After cleaning, the samples are then burned and converted to carbon dioxide gas and are passed through a completely sterile vacuum system. [3] Measurements of C-14 One technique to measure the Carbon-14 content of a sample is to further convert the CO2 gas into carbon monoxide over hot zinc, and into graphite powder over hot iron at about 600oC. The graphite powder (~0.5mg) is placed in the target holders and mounted on the target wheel of an accelerator ion source. Then, the Carbon-14 concentration can be determined. [3] Another way of measurement, the CO2 is stored in a tube insulated by Mercury and Lead, to minimize the effect of radiations from the atmosphere. Some fine instruments detect the action of the disintegration of Carbon-14, a light flashes on a control panel and a counter records the number of decaying particles. From this, the scientist can keep track of the number of atoms decomposing per unit of time. [1] Meanwhile, the TAMS method of measuring Carbon-14 decay was developed where a particle accelerator and a mass-spectrometer were combined. The spectrometer recognizes the energy and mass characteristics of the Carbon-14, and then submits it to a particle accelerator where the decayed particles are individually counted. [5] Radiation counters are used to detect the electrons given off as Carbon-14 decays and turns into nitrogen. The concentration of Carbon-14 is compared to the amount of Carbon-12 and the radiocarbon that has decayed can be determined. With some calculations, the age of the artifact can be estimated. [6] An equilibrium concentration in the organic matters has been maintained for many thousands of years which makes this dating technique valid, however, limits its applications. Applications Radiocarbon dating is one of the many methods and techniques that geologists have used in the dating of the earths surface and formations. [7] Other than in geology, radiocarbon dating is also used in archaeology, in determining the age of organic artifacts that are important in their study. It is also important in other fields such as in medicine. Carbon-14 can be injected to study abnormalities of metabolism that underlie different diseases such as diabetes, gout, anemia, and acromegaly (adult gigantism), and to trace the metabolism of new drugs. [8] In Fine arts, it is used to determine whether a piece of antique art is actually genuine or just a very clever modern copy. [1] Radiocarbon dating now finds its application on forensic studies. In a study on the Application of AMS 14C measurements to solving criminal investigations, samples from two (2) murder cases were examined and the Carbon-14 contents were measured. [9] Page 4 of 6

Archaeology 2 THZ

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating

Advantages and Disadvantages Advantages As compared to relative dating methods, radiocarbon dating method can give the exact age or a good estimation of the age of an organic material. Carbon-14 dating can determine the age of materials that has once lived, unlike other radiometric dating technique such as Potassium-Argon and Uranium-Lead dating which can only date rocks, crystals and geologic formations. [7] Disadvantages Radiocarbon dating is a purely physical method, measuring within known limits of accuracy the residual activity of Carbon-14 in every submitted sample. And since W.F. Libby proposed the method, there were a lot of samples that have been dated and majority of them has been accepted for providing an accurate estimate of the age of the events they wish to date. However, some are clearly anomalous reports. These anomalies can be accounted for the following reasons: [2] 1. The C-14 concentration has been wrongly determined. This may be due to faulty activity measurements in the laboratory. This is possible but rather rare, because every laboratory has adopted advanced systems to determine the best estimate of the age of the samples submitted to them. In case this happens, the collector may submit enough number of samples for duplicate runs. [2] 2. The sample does not represent the event to be dated. This type of error is probably the most common. It may be due to purely human errors of mislabeling, sample switching, handling mistakes in the laboratory, etc. [2] 3. The sample has been contaminated prior or subsequent to collection. Contamination can be traced from physico-chemical contaminations or mechanical intrusions. [2] Physico-chemical contamination, such as isotopic exchange with carbon of different activity or contamination by other radio isotopes, is the concern of a physical chemist. On the whole, its effect can be either recognized and measured or is negligible. On the other hand, mechanical intrusion is often more difficult to recognize. Examples are penetration of the sample with rootlets, re-crystallization and deposition of organic compounds on or within the sample. This can be corrected by pretreatment of the samples prior to analysis. [2] These contaminations may result to increase or decrease in the real age of the sample dated. [2] 4. The Carbon-14 content at time of death is based on an erroneous assumption, or cannot be accurately determined. [2] Suess effect also known as the Industrial effect is the dilution of radioactive CO2 brought by the great amount of dead CO2 (not containing Carbon-14) produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. On the opposite, Atom Bomb effect is the increase in radioactive CO2. This is due to the testing of atomic weapons since 1954 which has produced significant amounts of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere. [2] DeVries effect is the variation in the natural concentration of CO2 with time. It has been measured very accurately that the Carbon-14 content of tree rings over the last 1300 years did not correspond to the true age. This may resulted from the variation in the natural production rate of cosmogenic Carbon-14; and may be due to climatic change where Carbon-14 content of the atmosphere must be affected by variations in temperature, etc. [2] Another limitation of Radiocarbon dating is the fact that the half-life of Carbon-14 is only 5730 years and after 50,000 years or so, the Carbon-14 content of an organic matter will no longer Page 5 of 6

Archaeology 2 THZ

Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) Dating

be detectable and there will be no sense to date using this method. Old measuring and counting techniques have a limit of 50,000 years. This can be possibly extended to 100,000 years with the use of the accelerator mass spectrometer instrument. However, it can be still prone to errors due to the possibility of having Nitrogen-14 (from Carbon-14 decay), which has approximately the same mass as Carbon-14. [10] Radiocarbon dating cannot be used to date biological artifacts or organisms that did not get their CO2 from the air, such as for most aquatic organisms which obtained at least some of their carbon from dissolved carbonate rocks. This limits the application of radiocarbon dating because the age of carbon in the rock is different from the carbon in the air and the dating will just result to inaccurate ages. [11] References [1] Carbon-14 Dating. Accessed 29 June 2012. <http://www.chem.uwec.edu/Chem115_F00/nelsolar/chem.htm> [2] Polach, H.A. Collection of specimens for Radiocarbon Dating and Interpretation of Results. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1966. [3] Basic Principles of Radiocarbon Dating. Accessed 09 July 2012. <http://www.physics.arizona.edu/ams/education/theory.htm> [4] Geyh, M.A. Absolute Age Determination: Physical and Chemical Dating Methods and Their Application. Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin, 1990. [5] Hudson, Mary. Understanding Carbon 14 dating. Accessed 09 July 2012. <http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/vertpaleo/aucilla10_1/Carbon.htm> [6] Carbon-14 Dating. Accessed 29 June 2012. <http://www.ndted.org/EducationResources/CommunityCollege/Radiography/Physics/carbondating.htm> [7] Mendez, A.C. Radiometric DatingIs it Reliable? Accessed 09 July 2012. <http://www.amendez.com/Noahs%20Ark%20Articles/NAS%20Radiometric%20Dating%20i s%20it%20Reliable.pdf> [8] Carbon-14. Human Health Fact Sheet: 2005. Accessed 09 July 2012. <http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/carbon14.pdf> [9] Application of AMS 14C measurements to criminal investigations. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Vol. 272, No.2 (2007) 327332. <http://www.springerlink.com/content/fj858265000401k4/fulltext.pdf> [10] Carbon Dating. Retrieved 10 July 2012. <http://hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu/hbase/nuclear/cardat.html> [11] Carbon-14: Background Information. Accessed 29 June 2012. <http://www.acad.carleton.edu/curricular/BIOL/classes/bio302/pages/carbondatingback.ht ml>

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