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A revolution in radiocarbon dating


The conventional radiocarbon dating method relies on the accurate measurement of a sample's beta-ray decay rate in order to determine the age of the sample. The new method instead counts the individual C14 atoms in a sample using an ultra-sensitive mass spectrometer. There are numerous advantages to this approach. The problem of cosmic ray background does not arise. Shorter counting times on samples a thousand times smaller may be possible. We might also expect the production of more accurate age determinations. The new method will permit a great expansion in the variety of archaeological materials which can be dated because only milligram samples will be required. Research on the design of a dedicated C14 atom-counting machine is now in progress. This note is by E. B. Banning, Department of Near Eastern Studies and Department of Physics Archaeometry Laboratory, University of Toronto, Canada, and L. A. Pavlish, Department of Anthropology and Department of Physics Archaeometry Laboratory, University of Toronto, Canada.

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Bennet, C. L., Beukens, R. P., Clover, M. R., Elmore, D., Gove, H. E., Kilius, L. R., Litherland, A. E., Purser, K. H.. 1978. Radiocarbon dating using electrostatic accelerators: dating of milligram samples, Science, 201, 3457.
Beukens, R. P. and Pavlish, L. A.. 1978. TL and 14C dating of pottery: archaeometric potential, paper delivered to Canadian Archaeological Association, Quebec, 29 April.
Litherland, A. E. 1978. Radiocarbon dating: recent technological developments. A lecture in the Quaternary Interdisciplinary Seminar Series, University of Toronto, 24 January. Also see (ed.) Gove, H. E., Radiocarbon dating with accelerators (New York, 1978).
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Purser, K. H., Liebert, R. B., Litherland, A. E., Beukens, R. P., Gove, H. E., Bennet, C. L., Clover, M. R. and Sondheim, W. E.. 1977. An attempt to detect stable N- ions from a sputter ion source and some implications of the results for the design of tandems for ultra-sensitive carbon analysis. In proceedings of the Second International Conference on Electrostatic Accelerators, Revue de Physique Appliquée, 12, 10.
Rothenberg, M. 1977. Accelerator technique improves radioisotope dating, Physics Today, 30, No. 12, 1719.
Tans, P. P., De Jong, A. F. M., Mook, W. G.. 1978. Chemical pre-treatment and radial flow of 14C in tree rings, Nature, 271, 2345.
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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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