Carbon Dating Accuracy: What Are The Flaws Of Carbon Dating?

The theory of carbon dating is interesting, but there are inherent problems with the presumptions upon which it is based.

Used to estimate the age of ancient artifacts and human and animal remains, radiocarbon dating is regarded by many as one of the miracles of modern science. Some, however, have serious doubts about the credibility of this technique.

Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the amount of normal carbon that is found in a sample with the amount of radioactive carbon. Both carbon and radioactive carbon are found in every living organism. While carbon is quite prevalent in these organisms, radioactive carbon is present only in tiny amounts. Some contend that the relative ratios of carbon and radioactive carbon that are found on the earth have remained constant over time and that, using known rates of decay; we can estimate age on the basis of changes in this ratio in a particular artifact or remains.

Radioactive carbon is absorbed by living organisms throughout their entire life. When the organism dies that absorption stops and the radioactive carbon begins to break down. Because this break down occurs at a known rate it is theoretically possible to compare the amount of regular carbon and the amount of radioactive carbon and estimate just how long an organism has been dead.

Although the theory of radiocarbon dating is interesting, there are several inherent problems with the process. The first of these problems is the fact that the original ratio of carbon and radioactive carbon is unknown. The second problem is that the possibility of contamination of the sample over time is quite high. The older the sample the higher the probability of contamination, in fact! What this means is that using carbon dating to date very old samples is really quite impractical given our current level of knowledge and technological capabilities.

While carbon dating continues to be considered by many as a viable way of obtaining authoritative dates for a wide range of artifacts and remains, there is much room for error in the process. Even the use of accelerator mass spectrometry to analyze the relative levels of carbon and radioactive carbon has resulted in flawed determinations. It is not uncommon for different laboratories to determine quite different ages for the same artifact! While some of this deviation could possibly be explained by contamination or erred methodology in the labs themselves, it is apparent that the problems with carbon dating are much more complex than that.

Very simply put, too many things are unknown to allow the carbon dating process to be as accurate as many proclaim it to be. Factors as diverse as changes in the earth's magnetic field and changes in the amount of carbon available to organisms in times past could translate into perceivable differences in the carbon ratios in artifacts and remains from ancient times. Even changes in the atmosphere itself could impact this carbon ratio. We know that changes such as these have occurred over time. They are still occurring today in fact.

The fact that carbon and radioactive carbon are independently formed means that their ratios to one another could have changed substantially from ancient times to today. To base our knowledge on the age of the earth and its various constituents on information gleaned from a technique that depends on carbon and radioactive carbon ratios is very simply unrealistic.

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