Accuracy of Fossils and Dating Methods
Thermo-luminescence , Optically stimulated luminescence , and Electron spin resonance. All of these methods measure the amount of electrons that get absorbed and trapped inside a rock or tooth over time. Since animal species change over time, the fauna can be arranged from younger to older. At some sites, animal fossils can be dated precisely by one of these other methods. Particular isotopes are suitable for different applications due to the types of atoms present in the mineral or other material and its approximate age.
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as carbon, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments. One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon or radiocarbon dating, which is used to date organic remains.
This is a radiometric technique since it is based on radioactive decay. Carbon moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. With death, the uptake of carbon stops.
Absolute dating - Wikipedia
It takes 5, years for half the carbon to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon After another 5, years only one-quarter of the original carbon will remain. After yet another 5, years only one-eighth will be left. By measuring the carbon in organic material , scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact. The relatively short half-life of carbon, 5, years, makes dating reliable only up to about 50, years.
The technique often cannot pinpoint the date of an archeological site better than historic records, but is highly effective for precise dates when calibrated with other dating techniques such as tree-ring dating. An additional problem with carbon dates from archeological sites is known as the "old wood" problem. It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.
Thus dating that particular tree does not necessarily indicate when the fire burned or the structure was built.
For this reason, many archaeologists prefer to use samples from short-lived plants for radiocarbon dating. The development of accelerator mass spectrometry AMS dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard. Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods. One of the most widely used is potassium—argon dating K—Ar dating.
Potassium is a radioactive isotope of potassium that decays into argon The half-life of potassium is 1. Potassium is common in rocks and minerals, allowing many samples of geochronological or archeological interest to be dated. Argon , a noble gas, is not commonly incorporated into such samples except when produced in situ through radioactive decay. The date measured reveals the last time that the object was heated past the closure temperature at which the trapped argon can escape the lattice. K—Ar dating was used to calibrate the geomagnetic polarity time scale.
Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated.
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This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment. This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item.
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Heating an item to degrees Celsius or higher releases the trapped electrons , producing light. The rejection of the validity of fossils and of dating by religious fundamentalists creates a problem for them:. Fossil sequences were recognized and established in their broad outlines long before Charles Darwin had even thought of evolution.
Early geologists, in the s and s, noticed how fossils seemed to occur in sequences: The first work was done in England and France. Then, geologists began to build up the stratigraphic column, the familiar listing of divisions of geological time — Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and so on. Each time unit was characterized by particular fossils. The scheme worked all round the world, without fail.
From the s onwards, geologists noted how fossils became more complex through time. The oldest rocks contained no fossils, then came simple sea creatures, then more complex ones like fishes, then came life on land, then reptiles, then mammals, and finally humans.
Since , paleontologists, or fossil experts, have searched the world for fossils. In the past years they have not found any fossils that Darwin would not have expected. Darwin and his contemporaries could never have imagined the improvements in resolution of stratigraphy that have come since , nor guessed what fossils were to be found in the southern continents, nor predicted the huge increase in the number of amateur and professional paleontologists worldwide.
All these labors have not led to a single unexpected finding such as a human fossil from the time of the dinosaurs, or a Jurassic dinosaur in the same rocks as Silurian trilobites. Paleontologists now apply sophisticated mathematical techniques to assess the relative quality of particular fossil successions, as well as the entire fossil record. These demonstrate that, of course, we do not know everything and clearly never will , but we know enough.
Today, innovative techniques provide further confirmation and understanding of the history of life. Biologists actually have at their disposal several independent ways of looking at the history of life - not only from the order of fossils in the rocks, but also through phylogenetic trees. Phylogenetic trees are the family trees of particular groups of plants or animals, showing how all the species relate to each other.
Phylogenetic trees are drawn up mathematically, using lists of morphological external form or molecular gene sequence characters. Modern phylogenetic trees have no input from stratigraphy, so they can be used in a broad way to make comparisons between tree shape and stratigraphy. The majority of test cases show good agreement, so the fossil record tells the same story as the molecules enclosed in living organisms. Dating in geology may be relative or absolute. Relative dating is done by observing fossils, as described above, and recording which fossil is younger, which is older.
Related methods used for dating fossils
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