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But after the end of the last Ice Age those animals disappeared, so when scientists turn up traces of those animals on archaeological remains, those remains go way back. Last year, the University of Colorado's Doug Bamforth analyzed a cache of plus tools that a Boulder, Colorado, man accidentally unearthed in his yard. Those tools showed protein residue from camels and horses, so Bamforth dated them to the Clovis people who lived around about 13, years ago. Not all scientists accept the accuracy of these tests, but that's nothing new in archaeology.

Medieval manuscripts have a lot more to say than simply the words on their pages; often they're written on parchment made from animal skins, and organic material keeps its secrets for a long time. Literary historian Timothy Stinson developed a way to extract the DNA from parchment itself, and if you can tell what animal a parchment was derived from, you might be able to tell more about what time and place the document originated.

Moa, the giant flightless birds of New Zealand, may have been extinct for at least years, but their dung is surprisingly resilient. On cave floors and buried in shelters, researchers found dung from the moa, with some of the samples being 15 cm nearly six inches in length.

The contents of the droppings give more than a window into the giant bird's eating habits—they preserve a record of what the long-gone moa's ecosystem was like. The arid conditions of New Zealand caves provide the perfect place for poo preservation. Australia should, too, the researchers say, but the droppings of ancient marsupials just haven't turned up. As professor Alan Cooper says, "A key question for us is 'where has all the Australian poo gone? If you think your metal detector has uncovered some treasures, try finding vintage plutonium in the backyard. Jon Schwantes of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was called in to analyze a sample of plutonium accidentally discovered in a safe during the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear site in Washington.

One clue was the "signature" left by the reactor—every reactor's is different. The fingerprint of this discarded material led him to a reactor not in Hanford, but in Oak Ridge, TN. It also led him to the conclusion that it was created in , meaning it was created during the Manhattan Project, making it one of the world's oldest-known samples of enriched plutonium.

A pile of skeletons probably wouldn't tell us much more than the obvious. But University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James sees evidence that, to him, dates the first known chemical warfare attack back to A. In that year, Persians attacked a Roman garrison at Dura-Europos in Syria; when they tried to mine under the walls, Romans tried to counter by mining under the Persian tunnels. Archaeologists found the pile of Roman bodies in one of the tunnels, but no cause of death.

Radiometric Dating

James thinks it was asphyxiation. In the tunnels, he says, there was bitumen and sulfur—materials that, when burned, give off toxic gas. So, he says, the Persians probably used chemical warfare to do in their rivals. One classical way to date objects is to take note of what strata of rock they occupy—rocks come in layers, with the oldest at the bottom.

But those rocks also carry less obvious information—their magnetic signatures. The Earth's magnetic field varies all the time, by both strength and orientation. At the time rocks form, however, their magnetic materials acquire the particular orientation of the planet's magnetism at the time, giving geologists a window into the Earth's magnetic past.

You've probably heard about ice cores, but what are they exactly? Ice sheets are laid down in layers, and the layer corresponding to each year is a little different.

FOSSILS: how fossils are dated

The important thing for climate researchers is that the oxygen isotopes present in a layer can help show what the temperature was that year. So by extracting a cylindrical core sample containing layers that go way back, they can build a model of the climate of the past.

Finally, pollen is good for something besides making you sneeze. They release radiation until they eventually become stable isotopes of lead. These two uranium isotopes decay at different rates. In other words, they have different half-lives.


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The half-life of the uranium to lead is 4. The uranium to lead decay series is marked by a half-life of million years. These differing rates of decay help make uranium-lead dating one of the most reliable methods of radiometric dating because they provide two different decay clocks. This provides a built-in cross-check to more accurately determine the age of the sample. Uranium is not the only isotope that can be used to date rocks; we do see additional methods of radiometric dating based on the decay of different isotopes.

For example, with potassium-argon dating , we can tell the age of materials that contain potassium because we know that potassium decays into argon with a half-life of 1. With rubidium-strontium dating , we see that rubidium decays into strontium with a half-life of 50 billion years. By anyone's standards, 50 billion years is a long time. In fact, this form of dating has been used to date the age of rocks brought back to Earth from the moon.

So, we see there are a number of different methods for dating rocks and other non-living things, but what if our sample is organic in nature? For example, how do we know that the Iceman, whose frozen body was chipped out of glacial ice in , is 5, years old? Well, we know this because samples of his bones and hair and even his grass boots and leather belongings were subjected to radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating , also known as carbon dating or simply carbon dating, is a method used to determine the age of organic material by measuring the radioactivity of its carbon content.

So, radiocarbon dating can be used to find the age of things that were once alive, like the Iceman. And this would also include things like trees and plants, which give us paper and cloth. So, radiocarbon dating is also useful for determining the age of relics, such the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Shroud of Turin. With radiocarbon dating, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon is measured. Compared to some of the other radioactive isotopes we have discussed, carbon's half-life of 5, years is considerably shorter, as it decays into nitrogen Carbon is continually being created in the atmosphere due to the action of cosmic rays on nitrogen in the air.

Carbon combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. Because plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, this isotope ends up inside the plant, and because animals eat plants, they get some as well. When a plant or an animal dies, it stops taking in carbon The existing carbon within the organism starts to decay back into nitrogen, and this starts our clock for radiocarbon dating.

A scientist can take a sample of an organic material when it is discovered and evaluate the proportion of carbon left in the relic to determine its age. Radiometric dating is a method used to date rocks and other objects based on the known decay rate of radioactive isotopes.

10 Methods Scientists Use to Date Things

The decay rate is referring to radioactive decay , which is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation. Each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life or, in other words, the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its starting value.

There are different methods of radiometric dating. Uranium-lead dating can be used to find the age of a uranium-containing mineral. Uranium decays to lead, and uranium decays to lead The two uranium isotopes decay at different rates, and this helps make uranium-lead dating one of the most reliable methods because it provides a built-in cross-check.

Additional methods of radiometric dating, such as potassium-argon dating and rubidium-strontium dating , exist based on the decay of those isotopes.

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Radiocarbon dating is a method used to determine the age of organic material by measuring the radioactivity of its carbon content. With radiocarbon dating, we see that carbon decays to nitrogen and has a half-life of 5, years. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Did you know… We have over college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1, colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level. To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page.

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? The videos on Study. Students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. Explore over 4, video courses. Find a degree that fits your goals. Learn about half-life and how it is used in different dating methods, such as uranium-lead dating and radiocarbon dating, in this video lesson. Try it risk-free for 30 days. An error occurred trying to load this video. Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support. Register to view this lesson Are you a student or a teacher?

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Explain five methods of dating fossils

Add to Add to Add to. Want to watch this again later? What is Radioactive Dating? Principles of Radiometric Dating. Relative Dating with Fossils: Index Fossils as Indicators of Time. Methods of Geological Dating: Numerical and Relative Dating. What is Relative Dating? What is the Age of the Solar System? Absolute Time in Geology. What is Carbon Dating? Methods for Determining Past Climates. Introduction to Physical Geology: Intro to Natural Sciences.

Middle School Earth Science: Weather and Climate Science: UExcel Weather and Climate: Guns, Germs, and Steel Study Guide.