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Most archaeological items can’t be directly carbon dated, so their dating is based on testing done on nearby objects or materials.
This makes the results subject to the researchers’ assumptions about those objects.
As samples get older, errors are magnified, and assumptions can render carbon dating all but useless.
For example, variations in greenhouse effects and solar radiation change how much carbon-14 a living organism is exposed to, which drastically changes the “starting point” from which a radiocarbon dating test is based.
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.
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.
Contamination and repeatability are also factors that have to be considered with carbon dating.
A tiny amount of carbon contamination will greatly skew test results, so sample preparation is critical.
Tiny variations within a particular sample become significant enough to skew results to the point of absurdity.