Everything Worth Knowing About … Scientific Dating Methods

Scientific dating has confirmed the long residence of Aboriginal people in Australia. A number of methods are used, all of which have their advantages, limitations and level of accuracy. Complex dating problems often use a variety of techniques and information to arrive at the best answer. Artefacts and other materials can be dated in relative terms by observing which layer of sediments they are found in. This applies the geological principle that under normal circumstances younger layers of sediment will be deposited on top of older layers. This ‘law of superimposition’ works in the well-defined layers of the Willandra lunettes , but only dates objects as younger or older than adjacent layers.

Argon–argon dating

Everything Worth Knowing About Scientific Dating Methods This dating scene is dead. The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results. Sometimes only one method is possible, reducing the confidence researchers have in the results.

Methods fall into one of two categories:

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There are lots of ways to guesstimate ages, and geologists knew the earth was old a long time ago and I might add that they were mostly Christian creationist geologists. But they didn’t know how old. Radiometric dating actually allows the measurement of absolute ages, and so it is deadly to the argument that the earth cannot be more than 10, years old. Radiometric methods measure the time elapsed since the particular radiometric clock was reset. Radiocarbon dating, which is probably best known in the general public, works only on things that were once alive and are now dead.

It measures the time elapsed since death, but is limited in scale to no more than about 50, years ago. Generally applied to igneous rocks those of volcanic origin , they measure the time since the molten rock solidified. If that happens to be longer than 10, years, then the idea of a young-Earth is called into question. If that happens to be billions of years, then the young-Earth is in big trouble. As of January, , The oldest rocks found on earth are 4.

This is reported in the paper Priscoan 4.

Everything Worth Knowing About … Scientific Dating Methods

While there are numerous natural processes that can serve as clocks, there are also many natural processes that can reset or scramble these time-dependent processes and introduce uncertainties. To try to set a reasonable bound on the age, we could presume that the Earth formed at the same time as the rest of the solar system. If the small masses that become meteorites are part of that system, then a measurement of the solidification time of those meteorites gives an estimate of the age of the Earth.

The following illustration points to a scenario for developing such an age estimate.

Potassium-Argon Dating. Since the ratio of 40 K to 39 K has been found to be reproducible in a wide range of environments, the populations of 40 Ar* and 39 Ar makes possible the calculation of an age with an expression similar to that in the potassium-argon method.

Rubidium—strontium method The radioactive decay of rubidium 87Rb to strontium 87Sr was the first widely used dating system that utilized the isochron method. Because rubidium is concentrated in crustal rocks, the continents have a much higher abundance of the daughter isotope strontium compared with the stable isotopes. A ratio for average continental crust of about 0. This difference may appear small, but, considering that modern instruments can make the determination to a few parts in 70, , it is quite significant.

Dissolved strontium in the oceans today has a value of 0. Thus, if well-dated, unaltered fossil shells containing strontium from ancient seawater are analyzed, changes in this ratio with time can be observed and applied in reverse to estimate the time when fossils of unknown age were deposited. Dating simple igneous rocks The rubidium—strontium pair is ideally suited for the isochron dating of igneous rocks.

As a liquid rock cools, first one mineral and then another achieves saturation and precipitates, each extracting specific elements in the process. Strontium is extracted in many minerals that are formed early, whereas rubidium is gradually concentrated in the final liquid phase. In practice, rock samples weighing several kilograms each are collected from a suite of rocks that are believed to have been part of a single homogeneous liquid prior to solidification.

The samples are crushed and homogenized to produce a fine representative rock powder from which a fraction of a gram is withdrawn and dissolved in the presence of appropriate isotopic traces, or spikes. Strontium and rubidium are extracted and loaded into the mass spectrometer, and the values appropriate to the x and y coordinates are calculated from the isotopic ratios measured.

How Old is the Earth

Departures from this assumption are quite common, particularly in areas of complex geological history, but such departures can provide useful information that is of value in elucidating thermal histories. A deficiency of 40 Ar in a sample of a known age can indicate a full or partial melt in the thermal history of the area. Reliability in the dating of a geological feature is increased by sampling disparate areas which have been subjected to slightly different thermal histories.

Ar—Ar dating is a similar technique which compares isotopic ratios from the same portion of the sample to avoid this problem. Applications[ edit ] Due to the long half-life , the technique is most applicable for dating minerals and rocks more than , years old. For shorter timescales, it is unlikely that enough 40 Ar will have had time to accumulate in order to be accurately measurable.

Argon Geochronology. Facilities. Hardware; assumptions must be satisfied before the age of a rock or mineral can be calculated with the Potassium-Argon dating technique. These are: The material in question is a closed system. Principles of the 40 Ar/ 39 Ar method. The 40 Ar/ 39 Ar dating technique is a more sophisticated.

At the time that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published, the earth was “scientifically” determined to be million years old. By , it was found to be 1. In , science firmly established that the earth was 3. Finally in , it was discovered that the earth is “really” 4. In these early studies the order of sedimentary rocks and structures were used to date geologic time periods and events in a relative way.

At first, the use of “key” diagnostic fossils was used to compare different areas of the geologic column. Although there were attempts to make relative age estimates, no direct dating method was available until the twentieth century. However, before this time some very popular indirect methods were available. For example, Lord Kelvin had estimated the ages of both the Earth and the Sun based on cooling rates.

The answer of 25 million years deduced by Kelvin was not received favorably by geologists. Both the physical geologists and paleontologists could point to evidence that much more time was needed to produce what they saw in the stratigraphic and fossil records. As one answer to his critics, Kelvin produced a completely independent estimate — this time for the age of the Sun. His result was in close agreement with his estimate of the age of the earth.

Recent Advances in Understanding the Geology of Diamonds

The J factor relates to the fluence of the neutron bombardment during the irradiation process; a denser flow of neutron particles will convert more atoms of 40K to 40Ar than a less dense one. However, in a metamorphic rock that has not exceeded its closure temperature the age likely dates the crystallization of the mineral. Thus, a granite containing all three minerals will record three different “ages” of emplacement as it cools down through these closure temperatures.

Thus, although a crystallization age is not recorded, the information is still useful in constructing the thermal history of the rock. Dating minerals may provide age information on a rock, but assumptions must be made.

When it comes to determining the age of stuff scientists dig out of the ground, whether fossil or artifact, “there are good dates and bad dates and ugly dates,” says paleoanthropologist John Shea of .

Radioactive decay[ edit ] Example of a radioactive decay chain from lead Pb to lead Pb. The final decay product, lead Pb , is stable and can no longer undergo spontaneous radioactive decay. All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elements , each with its own atomic number , indicating the number of protons in the atomic nucleus. Additionally, elements may exist in different isotopes , with each isotope of an element differing in the number of neutrons in the nucleus.

A particular isotope of a particular element is called a nuclide. Some nuclides are inherently unstable. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will undergo radioactive decay and spontaneously transform into a different nuclide. This transformation may be accomplished in a number of different ways, including alpha decay emission of alpha particles and beta decay electron emission, positron emission, or electron capture.

Another possibility is spontaneous fission into two or more nuclides. While the moment in time at which a particular nucleus decays is unpredictable, a collection of atoms of a radioactive nuclide decays exponentially at a rate described by a parameter known as the half-life , usually given in units of years when discussing dating techniques.

Clocks in the Rocks

Shirey and James E. The loose crystals range from 1. Photo by Orasa Weldon.

RADIOMETRIC DATING. he question of the ages of the Earth and its rock formations and features has fascinated philosophers, theologians, and scientists for centuries, primarily because the answers put our lives in temporal perspective.

Australopithecus africanus — The word “Australopithecus” means “southern ape. Raymond Dart, professor of anatomy at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, was the first to study these fossils. In at Taung in South Africa, Dart discovered a fossil skull consisting of a full face, teeth and jaws, and an endocranial cast of the brain. The brain size was cc. Its age is currently felt to be around two to three million years old.

Dart was convinced that some teeth were man-like and thus concluded a transition between apes and man. His opinions on the matter of this particular skull were largely scorned by the scientists of this time who considered it nothing more than a young chimpanzee now considered to be about three years of age.

The skull was soon known derisively as “Dart’s baby. With Piltdown Man’s human cranium and apelike jaw, it was hard to reconcile it to the Taung Child.

Radiocarbon dating

View images by clicking on link or reduced image: Each image opens into a new window. These primitive, medium sized apes lived in rain forests between 18 and 22 million years ago. This species and others such as Dryopithecus existed before the hominid line diverged on the path to humans. This lineage ancestral gibbons is believed to have diverged from the great ape and human lineages between 17 and 25 Mya Avers, Oreopithecus ‘s hand closely matches the pattern of early hominids, with a grasping capability including firm pad-to-pad precision gripping that apes are unable to perform presumably as a response to similar functional demands to hominids Moya-Sola et al,

Argon is a noble gas. The noble gases are the six elements in Group 18 (VIIIA) of the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that shows how the chemical elements are related to each other.

There are 24 known isotopes of potassium, three of which occur naturally: Naturally occurring 40 K has a half-life of 1. It decays to stable 40 Ca by beta decay The conventional K-Ar dating method depends on the assumption that the rocks contained no argon at the time of formation and that all the subsequent radiogenic argon 40 Ar was quantitatively retained. Minerals are dated by measurement of the concentration of potassium and the amount of radiogenic 40 Ar that has accumulated.

The minerals best suited for dating include biotite , muscovite , metamorphic hornblende , and volcanic feldspar ; whole rock samples from volcanic flows and shallow instrusives can also be dated if they are unaltered. In healthy animals and people, 40 K represents the largest source of radioactivity, greater even than 14 C.

What Can Potassium Argon Dating Be Used For?