• Question: How does carbon dating work and how accurate is it percieved to be? Are scientists on the verge of finding a more accurate method?

    Asked by lectureattendee to Kevin, James, Hannah, Anthony on 17 Jan 2019.
    • Photo: Hannah Cornish

      Hannah Cornish answered on 17 Jan 2019:


      My carbon dating knowledge is a little rusty, but I’ll do my best! All animals and plants contain a lot of carbon which they get from their food and the atmosphere. There are a few types of carbon atoms, including carbon 14 which is radioactive. When the animal or plant dies it stops taking in more carbon and the carbon 14 atoms start to break down into non-radioactive carbon. This happens steadily at a known rate, so we can tell how long an animal or plant has been dead by the amount of carbon 14 compared to the other types of carbon.

      Carbon dating is useful for dating things up to 50,000 years old, if you want to date older materials there are other methods that work in a similar way like potassium-argon dating (good for up to 100,000 years) and uranium-lead dating (for rocks 1 million- 4.5 billion years old)

      Carbon dating has been used for a long time and scientists have refined it to make it more and more accurate. The best way to get the most accurate date from something like carbon dating is to combine it with other methods, such as looking at tree ring evidence, and archaeological evidence like coins, pottery or stone tools.

      I don’t know if there are any experts on the site who use carbon dating regularly, they might be able to tell you more!