Dating acuracy

Our understanding of the shape and pattern of the history of life depends on the accuracy of fossils and dating methods.

Some critics, particularly religious fundamentalists, argue that neither fossils nor dating can be trusted, and that their interpretations are better.

One source of inaccuracies in radiocarbon dating is contamination.

If your sample becomes contaminated with younger, modern material during the sampling process, then it will be invalid. If you sample sediments from the bottom of a lake that has a lot of incoming waters that have ancient radiocarbon in then, then you will derive an anomalously old age.

A stop watch may time your race with a precision of one hundredth of a second.Analytical techniques are now very advanced, and can give very small uncertainties on a radiocarbon age.But this isn’t the full story: like cosmogenic nuclide dating, there are plenty of sources of inaccuracies before the sample even gets to the laboratory.Around Antarctica, the ocean water has a radiocarbon age of around 1300 years, though this varies spatially and may have varied in time as well.Again, this can affect the accuracy of your results – but the precision remains high.

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