2 minute read


Radiocarbon Dating

Radiocarbon dating allows archeologists to date materials, formed between 300 and 40-50,000 years ago, that contain organic carbon. Carbon 14 is a naturally occurring radioisotope of ordinary carbon (carbon-12) that is created in the upper atmosphere when carbon-12 is bombarded by cosmic rays. On Earth, living organisms metabolize carbon 14 in the same percentage that it exists in the atmosphere. Once the plant or animal dies, however, the carbon-14 atoms began to decay at a known rate. Consequently, the age of a carbon-containing specimen such as charcoal, wood, shells, bone, antlers, peat, and sediments with organic matter, can be determined. One of the first applications of this technique was to assign a date to the beginning of the postglacial period of about 10,000 years ago.



Daniel, Glyn, ed. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Archeology. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell: 1977.

Fagan, Brian M., ed. The Oxford Companion to Archeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Maloney, Norah. The Young Oxford Book of Archeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Sullivan, George. Discover Archeology: An Introduction to the Tools and Techniques of Archeological Fieldwork. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1980.


Fowler, M.J. "Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeology." Archaeology Prospection 9, no. 2 (2002): 55-70.

Randall Frost



—A man-made object that has been shaped and fashioned for human use.

Atomic absorption spectrometry

—Method of analysis in which the specimen is placed in a flame and the light emitted is analyzed.

Cosmic radiation

—Electrons and atomic nuclei that impinge upon the earth from outer space.


—A method of separating organic remains by causing them to float to the surface.

Fracture mechanics

—Analysis of the way an objects breaks.


—Light emission from a body that is not due only to that body's temperature. Luminescence is frequently produced by chemical reactions, irradiation with electrons or electromagnetic radiation, or by electric fields.

Magnetic field

—The electromagnetic phenomenon produced by a magnetic force around a magnet.

Neutron activation analysis

—Method of analysis in which a specimen is bombarded with neutrons, and the resultant radio isotopes are measured.

Nuclear radiation

—Particles emitted from the atomic nucleus during radioactive decay or nuclear reactions.


—Spontaneous release of subatomic particles or gamma rays by unstable atoms as their nuclei decay.

X-ray fluorescence spectrometry

—A nondestructive method of analysis in which a specimen is irradiated with x rays and the resultant spectrum is analyzed.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acidArchaeometry - Archaeomagnetic And Paleomagnetic Dating, Dendrochronology, Fission-track Dating, Lithics, Luminescence Dating, Metals Analysis