You are on page 1of 9

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

Fifty Years of Radiocarbon Dating: This widely applied technique has made major strides since its introduction a half-century ago at the University of Chicago Author(s): R. E. Taylor Reviewed work(s): Source: American Scientist, Vol. 88, No. 1 (JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2000), pp. 60-67 Published by: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27857964 . Accessed: 08/02/2012 10:11
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Scientist.

http://www.jstor.org

Recognizing these phenomena. Second. and the animals that feed on it. in an of at the thropology University of century progress since Libby and his cowork ersmade their California. Ralph and Henry Michael of nia.ucr. it has mixed fully with normal carbon dioxide and accounts forabout one molecule in 1012.where charged particles are accelerated to immense velocities. Third. 14C employed Libby's means ofmeasuring elemental carbon in amorphous form ("carbon black"). several conditions must be satisfied.D. the method assumes that the presumed half-life of 14C is correct and that suitable analyses can re veal small concentrations of radiocarbon with appropriate levels of accuracy and precision. These mea the surrounding peopling the of Geophysics and Planetary Institute of Anthropology. John the Baptist inTurin. which quickly combines with oxygen to form molecules of ra dioactive carbon dioxide (14C02). But once an organism dies and its metabolic processes cease. University ofCalifor nia. Volume . Taylor the 1350s. forming what are known as cosmic rays. medieval arti Assigning a reliable age to this fact is just one of a long string ofnotable accom plishments sinceWillard F. the atmospheric ratio of 14C to normal car bon (12C)must have remained essentially con stant. The rate of decline is by the 14Chalf-life. By the time the radioactive 14C02 reaches the earth's surface. E.He originally built this type of apparatus forhis dissertation research at U. Riverside. on the of development of this remarkable sively application of ra technique. the ratio of carbon isotopes in the measured material must not have changed?ex cept by the radioactive decay of 14C?since the death of the organism. 14N. Department Physics.C. Arguments raged for six centuries about the "Shroud of Turin. ticles eventually rain down on the earth and strike molecules of atmospheric gas. a group of scientists de cided to seek a final answer to the question of authenticity.D. They applied thenow-famous technique for deterrnining the age of organic materials using the radioactive carbon neutrons. Libby real ized that the age of ancient organic matter can be found from its residual 14C content. with what can be found in a few strands of hair. when a linen fabric bearing Sincefull-scale frontand back images ofwhat ap man was first peared tobe a crucified displayed in a small village inFrance. He has written exten Here I review the entire fivedecades using 14C. The vast majority of this 14Ceventually enters the oceans. First. readers of American Scientist the firstquarter Taylor received his Ph. fractionof these A par 88 with nitrogen. of carbon Laboratory. Libby and his col leagues at theUniversity of Chicago introduced radiocarbon dating in December of 1949 (an R. A 1974 article by the gy at theUniversity ofCalifor late Elizabeth K. diocarbon and other one that dating today requires no more carbon than methods in archaeology.Fifty Years of Radiocarbon Dating This widely applied technique made major stridessince its introduction has a ago half-century at the Universityof Chicago R. E. particular emphasis on issues New World. Thus vegetation. Los Angeles in pioneering determinations of age 1970. Riverside. Taylor currently chairs achievement that brought Libby the 1960 No theDepartment of Anthropolo bel Prize for chemistry).are tagged with 14C." then. the amount of 14Cbe measured gins todiminish.during the 1980s. some having taken place in deep space long ago. Switzer land and theUnited States analyzed swatches from the linen shroud (along with other ancient textile samples of known vintage). about 5. to form 14C. 60 American Scientist. The sequence begins invarious parts of the galaxy. producing Some of these neutrons in turn react surements showed that the flax from which the linenwas produced grew sometime in the 13th or 14th century A. Finally.730 years.edu Long Ago and Far Away Radiocarbon dating depends on a chain of nat ural events. there should have been rapid and complete mixing of 14C through the various carbon reservoirs. But 1 or 2 percent goes into the ter restrialbiosphere. For the radiocarbon age to correspond with its actual age. where he directs theUniversity of Pennsylvania recounted for the radiocarbon laboratory. In ternet: retaylor@citus. Investigators in England. Living thingsmaintain a 14C content that is about equal to the atmospheric concentration because the carbon atoms thatundergo radioac tive decay within their bodies are continually replaced. have once served as the burial Italy?could shroud for Jesus ofNazareth. as mea sured by the radiation emitted by thematter. CA 92521. which he placed in a special type of Geiger counter. many people debat ed whether this famous cloth?later enshrined in theCathedral of St. Address: Radio isotope 14C?or carbon-14. because plants absorb carbon from C02 in the air during photosynthesis.?far too recently to have had anything to do with the death of Jesus.

including Paul Damon place at the Turin Cathedral (standing at right). these procedures ing radiocarbon dating practical. Following this approach. a radiocarbon of Arizona. The problem is that solid carbon. then Arch bishop of Turin. provided courtesy of Paul Damon. did not also register on the guard ring. James R. encountered?and they Successful as they were.Figure 1. proportionalgas Geiger counters. Sampling inApril 1988 under the gaze ofmany observers. Their solution was anti testing of nuclear weapons complicated the use measure coincidence counting.) decay inside the sample. With this scheme. they compared charcoal filter. records the great difficul . publishing mak ties overcame?in Knowns" inDecember 1949. and Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero expert from the University (farthest left). while he was study Berkeley in the the radioactivity of rare-earth elements. techniques that those in "anticoincidence. Tes ing timony by thosewho labored with Libby at the University of Chicago. tends to absorb stray com from the counter containing the sample pulses pounds. The production ofmassive amounts relativelyweak and infrequent beta decay from of artificial radiocarbon from the atmospheric 14C innatural samples. Lib by and his young collaborators were able to demonstrate the inverse relation between the 14C content and age for a series of known-age their first "Curve of samples. like a 1930s. that is. Arnold and Ernest C. and many of the organics in the envi ronment at that point had become mildly ra with pulses received froma ring of surrounding the "guard ring. Anderson. Testing material from the Shroud of Turin to determine whether this linen is old enough to have served as the took burial cloth for Jesus of Nazareth is just one of thewidely known applications of radiocarbon dating. were destined to change a great deal within just The key was finding an effectiveway to dis tinguish between background radiation and the a decade." Signals that dioactive." reflected radioactive involve only purified C02 or hydrocarbon gas 2000 January-February 61 mid-1930s. So by themid-1950s. and liquid scintillationcounting. a technique that had been of elemental carbon for low-level 14C employed in the study of cosmic rays since the ments. (Photograph from the archive of Giovanni Riggi.

along*with others. about 5. postulates of the after death at a decrease content.730 years. later perimposed Some of these neutrons that emit neutrons. "wrig or. except under very spe cial conditions. radiocarbon is taken up by terrestrial plants oxidized gles. molecules) atmospheric or "time to 14C02. such as Paul Damon at theUniversity ofArizona and Mimze Stuiver at theUniversity of Washington. mea could be ascertained that the age of an organic sample realized method?most probably theas by Chicago. civilization: the release of enormous quantities of fossil fuel carbon dioxide and theproduction of "bomb" 14C from atmospheric nuclear test can be inferredde ing. few lab oratories have developed the capability to ob tain age estimates up to about 70. These strategies became the basis on which tens of thousands of radiocarbon that illustrated clearly the systematic anomalies more than in the 14C time scale. But improvements in surement are justpart of the story of thepast 50 years: Specialists in radiocarbon dating have also made considerable progress inunderstand ing the surprisingly complicated relationship between 14C content and elapsed time. a Employing somewhat larger samples. none of these facilities date with any precision samples that are less than about 300 years old.000 times in the original." "windings" and.can Unfortunately. Suess quickly after atoms of carbon.The maximum ages that on characteristics of the instrumentation pend and other details of the experimental configura values. Modern laboratories with counters designed towork with older material can readily mea suremoderately sized pieces of organic matter that are as much as 40. San Diego. Seek ing an understanding of the geophysical impli cations of these variations. This limitation stems from the natural fluctuations in 14C production com with two effectsofmodern bined. Volume 88 . And with isotopie enrichment. Radioactive were su on recognized a long-term trend which of gas and give rise to short-lived cosmic rays strike molecules products spallation shorter-term components. tiny radioactiv mea ityof organic matter.000 years old?a truly re markable feat considering that this interval rep resents 13 half-lives. the pioneering 14C investigator Hessel de Vries (of theUniversity ofGroningen in theNetherlands) noted certain discrepancies between radiocarbon ages and true ages. (those slowed through collisions with dubbed De Vries effects less formally. had largely replaced the orig who used their 1974 article in (such to focus attention on early sets ofmeasurements inalmethod. more recently. in Quickly The presence of these deviations in the into also mixes in the atmosphere animals. can hit nitrogen atoms (14N) and transform them to 14C. 40 laboratories scattered throughout the 62 American Scientist. which would of a constant concentration of 14C in exponentially suring its radiocarbon sumption rate governed the atmosphere?is violated tovarying degrees. the amount of material available for analysis. Calibrating Radiocarbon Time A early as 1958. are created high in the atmosphere Figure 2. began to study thisphenomenon." "kinks. 14C. to some degree. Among the investigators studying these so were Ralph andMichael." generated a chemist at the University of 14C time scale indicated that at least one of the these processes.000 to 50. length tion?sample-blank of counting and. Most of the radiocarbon turn. by the half-life of 14C. es (such as acetylene and methane) or liquids called secular variations American Scientist as benzene).000 years. warps. some investigators have measured a small number of specimens that are as much as 75. or a diminution ofmore than 8. several investigators. notably the lateHans Suess of theUniversity of California.000 years old." "wiggles. Willard the sea. They and otherswere able since been deterrnined in dates have to document the amount of offsetbetween "14C world. Recognizing Libby. counter size.

They could thus distinguish the shield (A-A' on diagram) from puls pulses caused by radiation that had penetrated es originating with signals which would be "anticoincident" inside the detector ( ').800 years ago.000 years ago may have been in the range of 3. investiga tors have compared radiocarbon ages with those obtained fromhearth stones using thermo luminescencedating. using materials from aboriginal hearths found near Lake Mungo. When Ralph and Michael wrote their review. the unspoken reference date a specialists commonly use when they give number of radiocarbon years "before present").as ex pressed inuncorrected 14C time. thermolurrtinescence dating gauges the amount of time an object has been buried. which sets off the instruments used to count the num ground that decay and release an electron. investigators have in extending the 14C calibration succeeded much furtherback in time. But comparisons between 14C results and ages obtained frommineral of 14C in a sample is complicated of trace quantities by back radiation. geologists.000 years ago (or. For exam ple. But investigators have nevertheless tended the calibration using othermaterials and other radioisotopic clocks. the measurement of trace amounts of uranium-234 and thorium-230 in samples of ancient coral (calcium carbonate) provide estimates of their antiquity. from its value of about 3.time" and "real time" for thepast 7.with a maximum deviation of 800 to 1. the long termoffset appears to slowly diminish. Probing the discrepancy between conven tional radiocarbon ages and true ages by count ing tree rings is currentlynot possible forearlier ex periods. allowing true ages to be calculated by adding or subtracting the appro priate offset. The solution Libby and ber of atoms of radiocarbon Figure 3. a technique thatmeasures the photons released from quartz when inter nal high-energy electrons are freed by heat. geochemists and oceanographers working to gether over the past decade have extended the calibration to about 24. Rather than displaying a sine wave. The differences between thermoluininescence and 14C ages for these hearths suggest that the offset in the radiocarbon time scale for about 29.Measurement environmental his colleagues heavy used in the late 1940s was to surround the decay-counting apparatus with shielding and a ring of small detectors (photograph). to about 20.000 years by measuring the radiocarbon ages ofwood from California giant sequoia and bristlecone pine? which the true ages could be deter samples for mined by counting themany yearly growth rings in these venerable trees.500 to 5. So by pairing 234Tj/230xhages wim 14C ages from such coral samples. com parisons between 14C and tree-ring counts of Irish oak and of German oak and pine pushed the limit to about 11. These findings sparked a series of furthereffortsto calibrate the radiocarbon method. Australia.) 63 January-February . For instance. the offsetsbetween ages obtained from 14C and other dating methods show discrepancies inmany cases.300 years before 1950.000 years. Be cause sunlight can also liberate these trapped electrons.000 years formaterials living about 7. In the past 25 years. "(Photograph courtesy of the University 2000 of Chicago Library.700 years for that time to less than 200 years for the past two irtillennia. For earlier intervals. many workers were assuming that the long term component of the variation follows a sine wave function. from the "guard ring. But that surmise proved pre mature.000 years ago. For instance.

) over time at did.SAMPLES OF KNOWN AGE ^TaE ERiNGC5? f 50 a OD PTOLEMYC2O0 ? 150BCD eh TayinATC673 REDWOOD ? 5Oa0O C979 ?3?aC. and theGeneral Ionex that therewere no known Corporation?noted . Studies of ancient changes in the intensityof the earth's dipole magnetic field (and thus its ability to shield the planet from cosmic rays)? a currently considered to be major cause of the offsets in 14Cages?also cast doubt on long-term themagnitude of the discrepancy found using as a yardstick. Another type of accelerator as this approach was called. yet they cause considerable 64 American Scientist. Interestingly. Erie Nelson at Simon groups?one Fraser University and the second involving a collaboration of investigators at theUniversities of Toronto and Rochester. One inter pretation of thegeomagnetic evidence argues for a slowly decreasing offset in radiocarbon ages. fewer than 14 of these atoms will.Decay counting registers only a tiny fractionof the 14C atoms present. Ernest Anderson (be Libby (below. Volume 88 tion?and thus age?by counting decay events with an ionization or scintillationdetector. For example. (Photograph courtesy of the University Library.700 years material living between 25. when Libby and a initially demonstrated their first "Curve of Knowns" (above). 5720 ? 47 years SCS0STRISCI?43 ZoSCR^NEFEflu) 2?50?75 1000 2000 3000 Historical 5000 4000 AgeCycarS) 6000 problems because they introduce built-in uncer tainties indating: Calendar ages can oftenbe ex pressed only as broad ranges. James Arnold.could be used as an ultrasensitive mass spectrometer to distin guish ionized carbon isotopes by their charge to-mass ratio. Austin Long and his colleagues at theUniversity ofArizona used this strategy to determine the cutting date for a timber from a 4th-century Japanese tomb with an uncertainty of only five years. Radiocarbon specialists have considered var ious strategies to increase precision. when physicist work Richard Muller of theUniversity of California. These variations are well documented. Both months ofMuller's led by D.000 for deductions drawn from years ago. decrease on help achievement depended was ing easier to obtain. colleague.000 years old.500 to 2. in fact. which sends par ticles along a spiral trajectory.000 and 40. Among other things. Practitioners tolerated the inherent ineffi ciency in decay counting from Libby's first in 1946 until 1977. Thus radio carbon dates for some time periods will be in herently less precise than those forothers. of the 60 billion atoms of 14C in 1 gram of pre-industrial carbon. Further work will be needed to confirm that the systematic error in radiocarbon ages for500 century-oldmaterial is truly so small and to ex amine the short-term secular variations at such remote times. one that starts in the range of 1. This high-energy accelerator. on average. mass spectrometry.But investigatorsnow have a good handle on the "wiggles" in the calibration for the last twelve millennia. For example. The chief difficulty in the past was that a considerable amount ofmaterial needed to measure radiocarbon concentra They are also becom mermoluminescence specimens by assessing the radioactive decay of potassium into argon suggest less of an offset for this same period. even when the 14C concentrations are known precisely. such a strategy assumes that samples from low er beds must be older than those obtained high er in the stratigraphie column. published content in samples of known age (expressed that radiocarbon results showed 4. This in December 1949. Detecting 14C in thisway was possible. was described in dependently by two groups of physicists within initial publication. decay during each minute ofmeasurement. the geomagnetic measurements predict that 14C ages should be largely correct for carbon that is about 45. Berkeley proposed that radiocarbon concentra tions could be found directly with a cyclotron." mea This maneuver requires a sequence of 14C surements for closely spaced tree rings taken froma sample ofwood of unknown age. Accelerated Progress So in some cases radiocarbon dates are clearly becoming more accurate. Another novel calibration procedure is "wiggle-matching. Success was from another young colleague.000 to 50.) ? SOBO Curve Calculated From Present Day Point half Life Or Anoknown Radiocarbon. Some em ploy Bayesian statistics?a technique for com bining stratigraphie ordering and 14C ages?to prevent the errorbars in a ordered series of sam ples from overlapping. Figure young These here as decay counts per minute per gram of carbon) a rate commensurate with the half-life of 14C. graph reprint ed with permission from Science. at left).Match ing the shifts in these values against the known pattern of short-termde Vries effects in the cali bration curve permits a more precise age of the sample to be found. but consistent results proved difficult to achieve despite years of effort. at right) received of Chicago low.

Cf?LENDRIC DRTE (RG-BCJ of known age to be "calibrat radio offsets of samples Figure 5. (1990) compared radiocarbon results for coral samples with measurements grows even age estimates on the same larger derived samples and determined by counting and 1980s. essentially a large electro measurement converted to graphitic carbon for mass So in magnet. quirement in mass spectrometer. re to indicate that age from 234fj/230Th that the offset does graph reprinted lower graph reprinted not vary sinusoidally.stable negative nitrogen ions. converting but by the tainting of samples with modern the beam to positive ions. (1982) (above). by the sum et al.000 to 50. For both sample sizes and counting 14N. Measurements have allowed the radiocarbon method on wood extracted initially depended trees. Much of breaks up molecules ofmass 14.000 years. Why not? It turns out beam is first accelerated and passes through a that sensitivity is limited not by the detector "stripper. weeks or through the age barrier established by decay even months to justminutes. maximum age datable with radiocarbon might only rarely can 60. by permission by permission from Nature. it for earlier periods (right). First.) 2000 January-February 65 . counting celerator mass spectrometry has not broken times should be reduced from days. Even a few mous boost in detection efficiency. So in practice. one that parts per million ofmodern carbon in a sample promised three important advantages. These particles are carbon. During sults of such studies were taken offsets varied ed" by adding or subtracting the offset between carbon age and true age. By using negative Over the last 20 years. the ion that times. separates the isotopes of carbon so that with an accelerator spectrometer. ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? " I ^ : ?o <_) Fig 1. Second. rather.which would this contamination stems from the current re otherwise interfere A most laboratories that samples be with the detection of 14C.000 years. Efforts to establish from ancient as suggested sinusoidally. However. the will limit the effectivemaximum ages that can amount of carbon required should plummet be resolved. the 14Catoms can be counted directly. possible.Both groups also used tan dem electrostatic As thename implies. The stripping process materials are prepared for analysis. (Upper from Radiocarbon.000 be achieved. Finally. investigators have in deed realized the first two of these anticipated ions. extend from the then routine 40. the sensi it still lies counting: In routine application.000 Also. which is commonly introduced as the then furtheraccelerated. for which age could be derived the 1970s yearly growth rings. thousand-fold reductions have been ty in measuring 14C. the ages estimated with particle acceler ators are no more or less accurate or precise than years to as much as 100. theprojected third advance accelerators.000 and 50. But later Bard mary plot of Kline et al. 14Cdating with ac from grams tomilligrams. vestigators at these facilities face the same The advent of accelerator mass spectrometry problem that hampered Libby's use of solid at the end of the 1970s brought about an enor carbon samples a half-century ago."which removes electrons. these devices employ two stages: A negative ion has not materialized. the accelerator would discriminate against most difficul would create the benefits. tivity of detection should increase so that the somewhere between 40.

were widely (Pho Laboratory of the University employed. can survive many centuries of burial. The sensitivity of accelerator mass Figure 6. So over the past decade. in part because of the massive amount of artificial 14C created by the then spectrometry eventually permitted us to obtain in the atmosphere. Los Angeles. for example. Archaeologists had to obtain age estimates from were thought todate from pieces of charcoal that the same period. But highly were previously deemed the story is certainly not a simple one. such as the apparatus pictured here at the Isotope thus judge whether the bones might have ab of California. Long and his colleagues measured the 14C content in milligram amounts ofmaize with accelerator mass spectrometry and found that the seeds were less than 5. Our recent 14C In archaeology.) In 1989. nal chapter has not been written. But the new The work of several laboratories revealed that all of the alleged pre-Clovis ages were unreli approach provided a way tomeasure samples with extremely small amounts of carbon. may Accelerator mass spectrometry has also most acrimonious helped to address one of the New World archaeology?the nature debates in and timing of the peopling of theWestern Hemisphere.garded as among the earliest example of culti vated maize in theNew World. from the of Chemistry. unlike The Zea mays found at those sites had been re more recentNative Americans. and the fi permitted studies that tobe overly dangerous.000 years old. arguments have cen tered on two issues: the strengthof the evidence forhuman presence and its dating. had been declared to be pre Clovis in age. Vacuum highly specific organic constituents.000 years old. including amino acids and other quickly absorb trace amounts sorbs many other gaseous lines to purify and handle gas organic compounds. my colleagues and I undertook a direct examination of bone from human skeletons found at different ar chaeological sites inNorth American that. those of early South Asian populations. (Charcoal. years before theClovis period. But this idea was established at thebeginning of the 1970s. Beginning in themid-1970s. It appears that 66 American Scientist. Ex able.000 tional decay counting were suddenly possible. trace theflow of a compound within a patient's So the peopling ofNorth America probably rather than having to administer a more body. Volume 88 . just as a carbon filter ab these bones. Very measurements on human skeletons recovered from Kennewick in quickly. no human skele In the biomedicai sciences.) tograph courtesy of the UCLA Department were buried.000 radiocarbon years. A good illustra inNevada hint at some of the complications. We could for radiocarbon samples dating. between 8. seem to show skeletal features similar to study ofmaize specimens excavated from two rock shelters in the Tehuacan Valley ofMexico.890 to 11. at the very end of the last ice age. begins. This advance thus lieved.000 and 10. sorbed older carbon. for example. Although there now is evidence that at least one site inSouth America (Monte Verde in periments thatwould not have been mounted or would not have been practical with conven Chile) may have been occupied about 1.when it was not possible tomeasure the radiocarbon content of the small amount ofmaize recovered. as most prehistorians have long be radioactive solution. archaeologists have had to rethink their ideas about justwhere the center ofmaize domestication in Mesoamerica have been. the leap was no smaller. for which the ages of artifacts range from about 10. tion of the gains that ensued comes from a 1989 These remains. scientists could be quite selective about Washington and Spirit Cave what theywanted tomeasure. unlike unburned wood. seemingly as much as seven millennia old. on various grounds. which they ground in those obtained by decay counting. clini ton fromNorth America has yielded ages any cians could use natural concentrations of 14C to older than 11. Gas and liquid-scintillation counting replaced solid-carbon counting during the 1950s.570 radiocarbon years. Many ar chaeologists have questioned thevalidity ofma terialswith radiocarbon dates in excess of the well-documented Clovis period. Solid carbon samples would 14C ages from different chemical fractions of frequent testing of nuclear bombs of "bomb 14C" from the air. Historically.

and H. .. -::. ...... P.v. ..-:::-::":s'::.: . An Impressive Half-Century Now....And it regularly contributes to many other fields of science. J........ K.. (Photographs and diagram courtesy of D.. Damon of radiocarbon dates: Tables based on the Calibration on calibrating the ra consensus data of theworkshop diocarbon timescale... ~~ s. .. of the 14C timescale over the past 30.. Hamlin. They shared their pi measure ideas for conducting radiocarbon oneering ments in thisway with a diagram (right). .-.Law renceLivermoreNational Laboratory)for his valu able assistance in thepreparation of thisarticle.... 1990. and W...6 .html articles/ 2000 January-February 67 . 1982..M -.:-:::.. R Libby... a breadth that is perhaps fitting for a method that owes its current level of so workers in somany disciplines.*.. Bibliography Arnold. Erie Nelson University combined this impressive instrument with a colleagues large analyzing magnet (far right). Nature 345:405-410.-. Fairbanks and A.. 66 5 .... directly or indirectly.ut~. .. -.. E.....--. N.. -M-M.org/amsei/ OOarticles/taylor.. . One of the first demon atMcMaster strations of this technique FIG. . allowing the different the late ice-age inhabitants of North America may have been much more genetically diverse thanwas previously imagined.. . at the 50th anniversary.. " -* R .I-.R. Ralph.. Age determinations content: Checks with of samples by radiocarbon known age. when physicists began to couple particle accel erators with mass spectrometers.) took place using an accelerator and his (above). .. fromgeology to astrophysics. Libby's inventionmade the study ofworld prehistory trulypossible.. John Southon (Centerfor Accelerator Mass Spectrometry.. -. -.. . Links to Internet resources for further exploration are of "Fifty Years of Radiocarbon Dating" available on the American Scientist Web site: http: / / www... -. . . Erie Nelson..... .. 1949. .s . ... E. Bard. Radiocarbon 24:103-150... ....-M. . B.. . 1974.*.. ..... contributing a time scale that may not have been perfect (par at the outset) but that transcended the ticularly former jumble of regional schemes.: -~~~ -. Direct measurement ter 1977. radiocarbon dating..: .. Twenty-five years of Ralph. . it is difficult for many people to appreciate justhow dramatical ly the advent of radiocarbon dating transformed archaeology.... C. Zindler.-. 1a isotopes of carbon to be separated... Kline.... of 14C became possible af Figure 7.. .:s.. .... :.. Michael. . Science 110:678-680.000 Calibration years using mass spectrometric U-Th ages from Bar bados corals... J... American Scientist 62:553-560.. and E.~ $91H H. --: s... . -~ ... .e ... . -: -. generated using one of the firstMacintosh computers.... ..NTE . . :. Radiocarbon dating continues to provide the chronological foundation.J..== """~~~~g ""A"s -0 13~ t " i l i si *m n .. .arnsci.. phistication to Acknowledgment The author would like to thankDr... ~~ ~ ~ -... . E. D. R.. K........ ... most investigations into the past 500 cen for turies of prehistory.. . . . G. Lerman.