Developed carbon dating
Other high profile projects include the dating of the Turin Shroud to the medieval period, the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls to around the time of Christ, and the somewhat controversial dating of the spectacular rock art at Chauvet Cave to c.38,000 cal BP (c.32,000 BP) – thousands of years earlier than expected.
Radiocarbon dating has also been used to date the extinction of the woolly mammoth and contributed to the debate over whether modern humans and Neanderthals met.
Some of the first radiocarbon dates produced showed that the Scottish tombs were thousands of years older than those in Greece.
The barbarians of the north were capable of designing complex structures similar to those in the classical world.
In this way large domed tombs (known as tholos or beehive tombs) in Greece were thought to predate similar structures in the Scottish Island of Maeshowe.
This supported the idea that the classical worlds of Greece and Rome were at the centre of all innovations.
In 2008 we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26,000 years.
Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.
From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).
A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.
If 1% of the carbon in a 50,000 year old sample is from a modern contaminant, the sample will be dated to around 40,000 years.
Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.