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Dating Techniques

Pollen Dating (palynology)

Each year seed-bearing plants release large numbers of pollen grains. This process results in a "rain" of pollen that falls over many types of environments. Pollen that ends up in lake beds or peat bogs is the most likely to be preserved, but pollen may also become fossilized in arid conditions if the soil is acidic or cool. Scientists can develop a pollen chronology, or calendar, by noting which species of pollen were deposited earlier in time, that is, residue in deeper sediment or rock layers, than others.

The unit of the calendar is the pollen zone. A pollen zone is a period of time in which a particular species is much more abundant than any other species of the time. In most cases, this tells us about the climate of the period, because most plants only thrive in specific climatic conditions. Changes in pollen zones can also indicate changes in human activities such as massive deforestation or new types of farming. Pastures for grazing livestock are distinguishable from fields of grain, so changes in the use of the land over time are recorded in the pollen history. The dates when areas of North America were first settled by immigrants can be determined to within a few years by looking for the introduction of ragweed pollen.

Pollen zones are translated into absolute dates by the use of radiocarbon dating. In addition, pollen dating provides relative dates beyond the limits of radiocarbon (40,000 years), and can be used in some places where radiocarbon dates are unobtainable.

Fluorine is found naturally in ground water. This water comes in contact with skeletal remains under ground. When this occurs, the fluorine in the water saturates the bone, changing the mineral composition. Over time, more and more fluorine incorporates itself into the bone. By comparing the relative amounts of fluorine composition of skeletal remains, one can determine whether the remains were buried at the same time. A bone with a higher fluorine composition has been buried for a longer period of time.


Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Dating Techniques - Stratigraphy, Seriation, Faunal Dating, Pollen Dating (palynology), Amino Acid Racimization, Cation-ratio Dating - Relative dating, Absolute dating, Radioactive decay dating