How accurate are carbon 14 and other radioactive dating methods
Dating Subject to Error But scientists have long recognized that carbon dating is subject to error because of a variety of factors, including contamination by outside sources of carbon.
Therefore they have sought ways to calibrate and correct the carbon dating method.
''But at earlier times, the carbon dates were substantially younger than the dates we estimated by uranium-thorium analysis,'' he said.
''The largest deviation, 3,500 years, was obtained for samples that are about 20,000 years old.'' One reason the group believes the uranium-thorium estimates to be more accurate than carbon dating is that they produce better matches between known changes in the Earth's orbit and changes in global glaciation. Fairbanks, a member of the Lamont-Doherty group, said that if the dates of glaciation were determined using the uranium-thorium method, the delay - and the puzzle - disappeared.
Scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Laboratory of Columbia University at Palisades, N.
Y., reported today in the British journal Nature that some estimates of age based on carbon analyses were wrong by as much as 3,500 years.
The Lamont-Doherty scientists conducted their analyses on samples of coral drilled from a reef off the island of Barbados.
The samples represented animals that lived at various times during the last 30,000 years. Alan Zindler, a professor of geology at Columbia University who is a member of the Lamont-Doherty research group, said age estimates using the carbon dating and uranium-thorium dating differed only slightly for the period from 9,000 years ago to the present.
Accurate tree ring records of age are available for a period extending 9,000 years into the past.
Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.