Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a fossil by using radiometric dating to measure the decay of isotopes, either within the fossil or more often the rocks associated with it.
The majority of the time fossils are dated using relative dating techniques.
The technique hinges on carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of the element that, unlike other more stable forms of carbon, decays away at a steady rate.
Organisms capture a certain amount of carbon-14 from the atmosphere when they are alive.
Climate records from a Japanese lake are set to improve the accuracy of the dating technique, which could help to shed light on archaeological mysteries such as why Neanderthals became extinct.
Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material — in effect, any living thing.
As explained below, the radiocarbon date tells us when the organism was alive (not when the material was used).
This fact should always be remembered when using radiocarbon dates.
There are several different methods for estimating the ages of fossils, including: Paleontologists rely on stratigraphy to date fossils.
Stratigraphy is the science of understanding the strata, or layers, that form the sedimentary record.
The clock was initially calibrated by dating objects of known age such as Egyptian mummies and bread from Pompeii; work that won Willard Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
But even he “realized that there probably would be variation”, says Christopher Bronk Ramsey, a geochronologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the latest work, published today in Science.
There are two main methods determining a fossils age, relative dating and absolute dating.