Radioactive Dating

It may sound like a dangerous form of courtship, but far from it.

Every living thing continuously exchanges carbon dioxide through food and air, going in and out.

But once the living thing dies, no more carbon going in — only out.

By literally counting how much carbon atoms (more precisely an unstable carbon isotopes known as carbon-14, but who’s being picky) decays, a time frame can be estimated.

Willard Frank Libby got a Nobel Price for figuring that out.

So does sliced bread, but nobody got a Nobel for that one.

But that assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock. See: Scientific American.


fossilsTherefore, problems with this technique is that results are often corrupt, bringing up uncomfortable questions: time and the environment influence the decaying speed, solar flairs may change the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, etc, ad infinitum.

Britain’s Science and Engineering Research Council once sent out a sample of a known age to 38 labs, and only seven returned “satisfactory” results.

Fortunately amber has a decaying process not overly influenced by heat or humidity. This should reduce the error margin when dating amber the Radiocarbon way.

But geologists are well aware of the final and most striking problem with using C14 Radiocarbon Dating: the measurable age limit is in the range of 60,000 years, when any measurable carbon as fled the dead object.

Obviously, amber doesn’t make the cut.