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After all, textbooks, media, and museums glibly present ages of millions of years as fact.Yet few people know how radiometric dating works or bother to ask what assumptions drive the conclusions. This figure wasn’t established by radiometric dating of the earth itself. Radiohalos shouldn’t exist, according to conventional wisdom!We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].The person who wrote these words lived in the 1800s, many years before archaeologists could accurately date materials from archaeological sites using scientific methods.In the 1940s, scientists succeeded in finding out how long it takes for radiocarbon to disappear, or decay, from a sample of carbon from a dead plant or animal.Willard Libby, the principal scientist, had worked in the team making the nuclear bomb during World War 2, so he was an expert in nuclear and atomic chemistry.Though they are very tiny, polonium radiohalos have a huge message that cannot be ignored.
This means that its atomic structure is not stable and there is an uneasy relationship between the particles in the nucleus of the atom itself.Rasmus Nyerup's quote reminds us of the tremendous scientific advances which have taken place in the 20th century.In Nyerup's time, archaeologists could date the past only by using recorded histories, which in Europe were based mainly on the Egyptian calendar.I have tried here to answer some of the frequently asked questions that I receive from students via email, as well as providing some basic information about scientific dating methods."Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.
Radiometric dating measures the decay of radioactive atoms to determine the age of a rock sample.