Potassium-Argon Dating Potassium-Argon dating is the only viable technique for dating very old archaeological materials. Geologists have used this method to date rocks as much as 4 billion years old. It is based on the fact that some of the radioactive isotope of Potassium, Potassium K ,decays to the gas Argon as Argon Ar By comparing the proportion of K to Ar in a sample of volcanic rock, and knowing the decay rate of K, the date that the rock formed can be determined. How Does the Reaction Work? Potassium K is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust 2. One out of every 10, Potassium atoms is radioactive Potassium K
In these materials, the decay product 40 Ar is able to escape the liquid molten rock, but starts to accumulate when the rock solidifies recrystallizes. The amount of argon sublimation that occurs is a function of the purity of the sample, the composition of the mother material, and a number of other factors. Time since recrystallization is calculated by measuring the ratio of the amount of 40 Ar accumulated to the amount of 40 K remaining.
The long half-life of 40 K allows the method to be used to calculate the absolute age of samples older than a few thousand years.
The quickly cooled lavas that make nearly ideal samples for K-Ar dating also preserve a record of the direction and intensity of the local magnetic field as the sample cooled past the Curie temperature of iron. The geomagnetic polarity time scale was calibrated largely using K-Ar dating. Potassium naturally occurs in 3 isotopes: 39 K Two are stable, while the radioactive isotope 40 K decays with a half-life of 1. Conversion to stable 40 Ca occurs via electron emission beta decay in Conversion to stable 40 Ar occurs via electron capture in the remaining Argon, being a noble gasis a minor component of most rock samples of geochronological interest: it does not bind with other atoms in a crystal lattice.
When 40 K decays to 40 Ar argonthe atom typically remains trapped within the lattice because it is larger than the spaces between the other atoms in a mineral crystal. Entrained argon-diffused argon that fails to escape from the magma-may again become trapped in crystals when magma cools to become solid rock again.
After the recrystallization of magma, more 40 K will decay and 40 Ar will again accumulate, along with the entrained argon atoms, trapped in the mineral crystals. Measurement of the quantity of 40 Ar atoms is used to compute the amount of time that has passed since a rock sample has solidified. Despite 40 Ca being the favored daughter nuclide, it is rarely useful in dating because calcium is so common in the crust, with 40 Ca being the most abundant isotope.
Thus, the amount of calcium originally present is not known and can vary enough to confound measurements of the small increases produced by radioactive decay. The ratio of the amount of 40 Ar to that of 40 K is directly related to the time elapsed since the rock was cool enough to trap the Ar by the equation.
The scale factor 0. In practice, each of these values may be expressed as a proportion of the total potassium present, as only relative, not absolute, quantities are required. To obtain the content ratio of isotopes 40 Ar to 40 K in a rock or mineral, the amount of Ar is measured by mass spectrometry of the gases released when a rock sample is volatilized in vacuum. The potassium is quantified by flame photometry or atomic absorption spectroscopy.
The varnish contains cations, which are positively charged atoms or molecules. Different cations move throughout the environment at different rates, so the ratio of different cations to each other changes over time.
By calibrating these ratios with dates obtained from rocks from a similar microenvironment, a minimum age for the varnish can be determined. This technique can only be applied to rocks from desert areas, where the varnish is most stable. Although cation-ratio dating has been widely used, recent studies suggest it has many problems.
Many of the dates obtained with this method are inaccurate due to improper chemical analyses. In addition, the varnish may not actually be stable over long periods of time. Finally, some scientists have recently suggested that the cation ratios may not even be directly related to the age of the sample. Thermoluminescence dating is useful for determining the age of pottery. Electrons from quartz and other minerals in the pottery clay are bumped out of their normal positions ground state when the clay is exposed to radiation.
This radiation may come from radioactive substances such as uranium, present in the clay or burial medium, or from cosmic radiation. The longer the exposure to the radiation, the more electrons that are bumped into an excited state, and the more light that is emitted upon heating. The process of displacing electrons begins again after the object cools. Scientists can determine how many years have passed since a ceramic piece was fired by heating it in the laboratory and measuring how much light is given off.
Thermoluminescence dating has the advantage of covering the time interval between radiocarbon and potassium-argon datingor 40, -years. In addition, it can be used to date materials that cannot be dated with these other two methods. Optically stimulated luminescence has only been used since Minerals found in sediments are sensitive to light. Electrons found in the sediment grains leave the ground state when exposed to light, called recombination.
To determine the age of a sediment, scientists expose grains to a known amount of light and compare these grains with the unknown sediment. This technique can be used to determine the age of unheated sediments less thanyears old.
This absolute dating method is also known as dendrochronology. It is based on the fact that trees produce one growth ring each year. The rings form a distinctive pattern, which is the same for all members in a given species and geographical area.
The patterns from trees of different ages including ancient wood are overlapped, forming a master pattern that can be used to date timbers thousands of years old with a resolution of one year. Timbers can be used to date buildings and archaeological sites. In addition, tree rings are used to date changes in the climate such as sudden cool or dry periods.
Dendrochronology has a range ofyears or more.
Jan 31, The potassium-argon (K-Ar) isotopic dating method is especially useful for determining the age of lavas. Developed in the s, it was important in developing the theory of plate tectonics and in calibrating the geologic time jankossencontemporary.com: Andrew Alden. Potassium-argon dating, abbreviated K-Ar dating, is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and jankossencontemporary.com is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium (K) into argon (Ar). Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas, clay minerals, tephra, and jankossencontemporary.com these materials, the . Potassium-Argon Dating Potassium-Argon dating is the only viable technique for dating very old archaeological materials. Geologists have used this method to date rocks as much as 4 billion years old. It is based on the fact that some of the radioactive isotope of Potassium, Potassium (K),decays to the gas Argon as Argon (Ar).
As previously mentioned, radioactive decay refers to the process in which a radioactive form of an element is converted into a nonradioactive product at a regular rate. Radioactive decay dating is not a single method of absolute dating but instead a group of related methods for absolute dating of samples.
When volcanic rocks are heated to extremely high temperatures, they release any argon gas trapped in them. As the rocks cool, argon 40 Ar begins to accumulate.
Argon is formed in the rocks by the radioactive decay of potassium 40 K. The amount of 40 Ar formed is proportional to the decay rate half-life of 40 K, which is 1. In other words, it takes 1. This method is generally only applicable to rocks greater than three million years old, although with sensitive instruments, rocks several hundred thousand years old may be dated.
The reason such old material is required is that it takes a very long time to accumulate enough 40 Ar to be measured accurately. Potassium-argon dating has been used to date volcanic layers above and below fossils and artifacts in east Africa. Radiocarbon is used to date charcoal, wood, and other biological materials. The range of conventional radiocarbon dating is 30, - 40, years, but with sensitive instrumentation this range can be extended to 70, years.
Radiocarbon 14 C is a radioactive form of the element carbon. It decays spontaneously into nitrogen 14 N. Plants get most of their carbon from the air in the form of carbon dioxideand animals get most of their carbon from plants or from animals that eat plants.
Atoms of 14 C and of a non-radioactive form of carbon, 12 C, are equally likely to be incorporated into living organisms - there is no discrimination. When the organism dies, however, its body stops incorporating new carbon. The ratio will then begin to change as the 14 C in the dead organism decays into 14 N.
The rate at which this process occurs is called the half-life. This is the time required for half of the 14 C to decay into 14 N. The half-life of 14 C is 5, years. This allows us to determine how much 14 C has formed since the death of the organism.
A problem with radiocarbon dating is that diagenic after death contamination of a specimen from soil, water, etc. This can lead to inaccurate dates.
Another problem lies with the assumptions associated with radiocarbon dating. This is not completely true. The daughters have relatively short half-lives ranging from a few hundred thousand years down to only a few years. This provides a dating range for the different uranium series of a few thousand years toyears. Uranium series have been used to date uranium-rich rocks, deep-sea sediments, shells, bones, and teeth, and to calculate the ages of ancient lake beds.
The two types of uranium series dating techniques are daughter deficiency methods and daughter excess methods. In daughter deficiency situations, the parent radioisotope is initially deposited by itself, without its daughter the isotope into which it decays present.
Through time, the parent decays to the daughter until the two are in equilibrium equal amounts of each. The age of the deposit may be determined by measuring how much of the daughter has formed, providing that neither isotope has entered or exited the deposit after its initial formation.
Living mollusks and corals will only take up dissolved compounds such as isotopes of uranium, so they will contain no protactinium, which is insoluble.
However, dating mechanisms have their own set of assumptions that need to be realized. This page, Potassium-Argon Dating I, is dedicated to looking at the assumptions that are made in Potassium-Argon age determinations. The second page, Potassium-Argon Dating II, is dedicated to looking at what questions are needed so that a model can be. Potassium-Argon Dating. Potassium-Argon dating has the advantage that the argon is an inert gas that does not react chemically and would not be expected to be included in the solidification of a rock, so any found inside a rock is very likely the result of radioactive decay of potassium. Since the argon will escape if the rock is melted, the dates obtained are to the last molten time . How potassium-argon dating works Published: 24 June (GMT+10) Photo Wikipedia by Tas Walker. One of the most widely used dating methods is the potassium-argon method, which has been applied to 'dating' rocks for decades, especially igneous rocks that have solidified from molten magma.
Protactinium begins to accumulate via the decay of U after the organism dies. Scientists can determine the age of the sample by measuring how much Pa is present and calculating how long it would have taken that amount to form. In the case of a daughter excess, a larger amount of the daughter is initially deposited than the parent. Non-uranium daughters such as protactinium and thorium are insoluble, and precipitate out on the bottoms of bodies of water, forming daughter excesses in these sediments.
Over time, the excess daughter disappears as it is converted back into the parent, and by measuring the extent to which this has occurred, scientists can date the sample. If the radioactive daughter is an isotope of uranium, it will dissolve in water, but to a different extent than the parent; the two are said to have different solubilities. For example, U dissolves more readily in water than its parent, U, so lakes and oceans contain an excess of this daughter isotope.
Some volcanic minerals and glasses, such as obsidian, contain uranium U. The rate at which this process occurs is proportional to the decay rate of U. The decay rate is measured in terms of the half-life of the element, or the time it takes for half of the element to split into its daughter atoms. The half-life of U is 4. When the mineral or glass is heated, the tracks are erased in much the same way cut marks fade away from hard candy that is heated.
This process sets the fission track clock to zero, and the number of tracks that then form are a measure of the amount of time that has passed since the heating event. Scientists are able to count the tracks in the sample with the aid of a powerful microscope.
The sample must contain enough U to create enough tracks to be counted, but not contain too much of the isotope, or there will be a jumble of tracks that cannot be distinguished for counting. One of the advantages of fission track dating is that it has an enormous dating range. Objects heated only a few decades ago may be dated if they contain relatively high levels of U; conversely, some meteorites have been dated to over a billion years old with this method.
See also Pollen analysis ; Strata. Dickin, Alan P. Radiogenic Isotope Geology. Balter, Michael. Guilderson, Tom P. Turney, Chris S. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. May 11, Retrieved May 11, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. Dating techniques are procedures used by scientists to determine the age of a specimen.
Relative dating methods tell only if one sample is older or younger than another sample; absolute dating methods provide a date in years. Many absolute dating techniques take advantage of radioactive decaywhereby a radioactive form of an element is converted into another radioactive isotope or non-radioactive product at a regular rate.
In recent years, a few of these methods have undergone continual refinement as scientists strive to develop the most accurate dating techniques possible. It is based on the assumption which, except at unconformitiesnearly always holds true that deeper layers were deposited earlier, and thus are older than more shallow layers.
Potassium-argon Dating, potassium-argon dating A dating technique for certain rocks that depends on the decay of the radioisotope potassium to argon, a process with a Date, date1 / dat/ n. 1. the day of the month or year as specified by a number. ? a particular day or year when a given event occurred or will occur: sig. method of potassium argon dating. determines the amount of argon present. potassium in the rock slowly decays into argon, so you measure the rate/amount of decay to determine the time elapsed from the eruption to the present day. advantages potassium argon dating. The potassium-argon dating method has been used to measure a wide variety of ages. The potassium-argon age of some meteorites is as old as 4, years, and volcanic rocks as young as 20, years old have been measured by this method. Argonargon dating. Radiometric dating. Additional Information. External Websites.
Although these units may be sequential, they are not necessarily continuous due to erosional removal of some intervening units. The technique works best if the animals belonged to species that evolved quickly, expanded rapidly over a large area, or suffered a mass extinction.
This process results in a "rain" of pollen that falls over many types of environments. In most cases, this also reveals much about the climate of the period, because most plants only thrive in specific climatic conditions.
This dating technique of amino acid racimization was first conducted by Hare and Mitterer inand was popular in the s. Amino acid racimization is based on the principle that amino acids except glycine, a very simple amino acid exist in two mirror image forms called stereoisomers. This may form a D-amino acid instead of an L - amino acid.
The rate at which the reaction occurs is different for each amino acid; in addition, it depends upon the moisture, temperatureand pH of the postmortem conditions. It can be used to obtain dates that would be unobtainable by more conventional methods such as radiocarbon dating. Although cation-ratio dating has been widely used, recent studies suggest it has potential errors. Thermoluminescence dating is very useful for determining the age of pottery. This radiation may come from radioactive substances such as uranium.
The longer the radiation exposure, the more electrons get bumped into an excited state. With more electrons in an excited state, more light is emitted upon heating. Scientists can determine how many years have passed since a ceramic was fired by heating it in the laboratory and measuring how much light is given off. Optically stimulated luminescence OSL has only been used since It is very similar to thermoluminescence dating, both of which are considered "clock setting" techniques.
To determine the age of sediment, scientists expose grains to a known amount of light and compare these grains with the unknown sediment. A disadvantage to this technique is that in order to get accurate results, the sediment to be tested cannot be exposed to light which would reset the "clock"making sampling difficult. The absolute dating method utilizing tree ring growth is known as dendrochronology.
Dendrochronology has a range of one to 10, years or more. As previously mentioned, radioactive decay refers to the process in which a radioactive form of an element is converted into a decay product at a regular rate.
Potassium-argon dating relies on the fact that when volcanic rocks are heated to extremely high temperatures, they release any argon gas trapped in them. Radiocarbon dating is used to date charcoal, wood, and other biological materials.
The range of conventional radiocarbon dating is 30, - 40, years, but with sensitive instrumentation, this range can be extended to 70, years.
Relative to their atmospheric proportions, atoms of 14 C and of a non-radioactive form of carbon, 12 C, are equally likely to be incorporated into living organisms. This allows them to determine how much 14 C has formed since the death of the organism. One of the most familiar applications of radioactive dating is determining the age of fossilized remains, such as dinosaur bones.
Radioactive dating is also used to authenticate the age of rare archaeological artifacts. Because items such as paper documents and cotton garments are produced from plants, they can be dated using radiocarbon dating.
Without radioactive datinga clever forgery might be indistinguishable from a real artifact. There are some limitations, however, to the use of this technique. Samples that were heated or irradiated at some time may yield by radioactive dating an age less than the true age of the object. Because of this limitation, other dating techniques are often used along with radioactive dating to ensure accuracy.
Uranium series dating techniques rely on the fact that radioactive uranium and thorium isotopes decay into a series of unstable, radioactive "daughter" isotopes; this process continues until a stable non-radioactive lead isotope is formed. The "parent" isotopes have half-lives of several billion years.
The Age of the Earth
Uranium series have been used to date uranium-rich rocks, deep-sea sediments, shells, bones, and teeth, and to calculate the ages of ancient lakebeds. In the case of daughter excess, a larger amount of the daughter is initially deposited than the parent. Some volcanic minerals and glasses, such as obsidiancontain uranium U. Over time, these substances become "scratched. When an atom of U splits, two "daughter" atoms rocket away from each other, leaving in their wake tracks in the material in which they are embedded.
Although certain dating techniques are accurate only within certain age ranges, whenever possible, scientists attempt to use multiple methods to date specimens. Correlation of dates via different dating methods provides a highest degree of confidence in dating.
See also Evolution, evidence of; Fossil record; Fossils and fossilization; Geologic time; Historical geology. Relative dating methods tell only if one sample is older or younger than another; absolute dating methods provide a date in years.
Many absolute dating techniques take advantage of radioactive decaywhereby a radioactive form of an element is converted into a non-radioactive product at a regular rate. The technique works best if the animals belonged to species which evolved quickly, expanded rapidly over a large area, or suffered a mass extinction.
Pollen that ends up in lake beds or peat bogs is the most likely to be preserved, but pollen may also become fossilized in arid conditions if the soil is acidic or cool.
The varnish contains cations, which are positivelycharged atoms or molecules. This radiation may come from radioactive substances such as uraniumpresent in the clay or burial medium, or from cosmic radiation. Thermoluminescence dating has the advantage of covering the time interval between radiocarbon and potassium-argon datingor 40,- years. As the rocks cool, argon 40Ar begins to accumulate. Argon is formed in the rocks by the radioactive decay of potassium 40K. The amount of 40Ar formed is proportional to the decay rate half-life of 40K, which is 1.
The reason such old material is required is that it takes a very long time to accumulate enough 40Ar to be measured accurately. The range of conventional radiocarbon dating is 30, years, but with sensitive instrumentation this range can be extended to 70, years.
Radiocarbon 14C is a radioactive form of the element carbon. It decays spontaneously into nitrogen 14N. Atoms of 14C and of a non-radioactive form of carbon, 12C, are equally likely to be incorporated into living organisms-there is no discrimination. The ratio will then begin to change as the 14C in the dead organism decays into 14N. This is the time required for half of the 14C to decay into 14N. The half-life of 14C is 5, years.
This allows us to determine how much 14C has formed since the death of the organism. The "parent" isotopes have half-lives of several thousand million years. Geyh, Mebus A. Absolute Age Determination.
New York : Springer-Verlag, Oberhofer, and D. Regulla, eds. Scientific Dating Methods. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, Lewis, C. Fission-Track Dating. Movies and television have presented a romantic vision of archaeology as adventure in far-away and exotic locations. A more realistic picture might show researchers digging in smelly mud for hours under the hot sun while battling relentless mosquitoes.
This type of archaeological research produces hundreds of small plastic bags containing pottery shards, animal bones, bits of worked stone, and other fragments. These findings must be classified, which requires more hours of tedious work in a stuffy tent. At its best, archaeology involves a studious examination of the past with the goal of learning important information about the culture and customs of ancient or not so ancient peoples.
Much archaeology in the early twenty-first century investigates the recent past, a sub-branch called "historical archaeology. Archaeology is the study of the material remains of past human cultures.
It is distinguished from other forms of inquiry by its method of study, excavation. Most archaeologists call this "digging. That sort of unscientific digging destroys the archaeological information.
Archaeological excavation requires the removal of material layer by layer to expose artifacts in place. The removed material is carefully sifted to find small artifactstiny animal bones, and other remains.
Archaeologists even examine the soil in various layers for microscopic material, such as pollen. Excavations, in combination with surveys, may yield maps of a ruin or collections of artifacts. Time is important to archaeologists. There is rarely enough time to complete the work, but of even greater interest is the time that has passed since the artifact was created. An important part of archaeology is the examination of how cultures change over time.
It is therefore essential that the archaeologist is able to establish the age of the artifacts or other material remains and arrange them in a chronological sequence.
The archaeologist must be able to distinguish between objects that were made at the same time and objects that were made at different times. When objects that were made at different times are excavated, the archaeologist must be able to arrange them in a sequence from the oldest to the most recent. Before scientific dating techniques such as dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating were introduced to archaeology, the discipline was dominated by extensive discussions of the chronological sequence of events.
Most of those questions have now been settled and archaeologists have moved on to other issues. Scientific dating techniques have had a huge impact on archaeology. Archaeologists use many different techniques to determine the age of an object. Usually, several different techniques are applied to the same object.
Relative dating arranges artifacts in a chronological sequence from oldest to most recent without reference to the actual date. For example, by studying the decorations used on pottery, the types of materials used in the pottery, and the types and shapes of pots, it is often possible to arrange them into a sequence without knowing the actual date.
In absolute datingthe age of an object is determined by some chemical or physical process without reference to a chronology. Relative Dating Methods. The most common and widely used relative dating technique is stratigraphy. The principle of superposition borrowed from geology states that higher layers must be deposited on top of lower layers. Thus, higher layers are more recent than lower layers. This only applies to undisturbed deposits. Rodent burrows, root action, and human activity can mix layers in a process known as bioturbation.
However, the archaeologist can detect bioturbation and allow for its effects. Discrete layers of occupation can often be determined. For example, Hisarlik, which is a hill in Turkeyis thought by some archaeologists to be the site of the ancient city of Troy. However, Hisarlik was occupied by many different cultures at various times both before and after the time of Troy, and each culture built on top of the ruins of the previous culture, often after violent conquest.
Consequently, the layers in this famous archaeological site represent many different cultures. An early excavator of Hisarlik, Heinrich Schleimann, inadvertently dug through the Troy layer into an earlier occupation and mistakenly assigned the gold artifacts he found there to Troy.
Other sites have been continuously occupied by the same culture for a long time and the different layers represent gradual changes. In both cases, stratigraphy will apply. A chronology based on stratigraphy often can be correlated to layers in other nearby sites.
For example, a particular type or pattern of pottery may occur in only one layer in an excavation. If the same pottery type is found in another excavation nearby, it is safe to assume that the layers are the same age. Archaeologists rarely make these determinations on the basis of a single example. Usually, a set of related artifacts is used to determine the age of a layer.
Seriation simply means ordering. This technique was developed by the inventor of modern archaeology, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Seriation is based on the assumption that cultural characteristics change over time. For example, consider how automobiles have changed in the last 50 years a relatively short time in archaeology.
Automobile manufacturers frequently introduce new styles about every year, so archaeologists thousands of years from now will have no difficulty identifying the precise date of a layer if the layer contains automobile parts.
Cultural characteristics tend to show a particular pattern over time. The characteristic is introduced into the culture for example, using a certain type of projectile point for hunting or wearing low-riding jeansbecomes progressively more popular, then gradually wanes in popularity.
The method of seriation uses this distinctive pattern to arrange archaeological materials into a sequence. However, seriation only works when variations in a cultural characteristic are due to rapid and significant change over time. It also works best when a characteristic is widely shared among many different members of a group.
Even then, it can only be applied to a small geographic area, because there is also geographic variation in cultural characteristics.
For example, 50 years ago American automobiles changed every year while the Volkswagen Beetle hardly changed at all from year to year. Cross dating is also based on stratigraphy. It uses the principle that different archaeological sites will show a similar collection of artifacts in layers of the same age.
Sir Flinders Petrie used this method to establish the time sequence of artifacts in Egyptian cemeteries by identifying which burials contained Greek pottery vessels.
These same Greek pottery styles could be associated with monuments in Greece whose construction dates were fairly well known. Since absolute dating techniques have become common, the use of cross dating has decreased significantly.
Pollen grains also appear in archaeological layers. They are abundant and they survive very well in archaeological contexts. As climates change over time, the plants that grow in a region change as well. People who examine pollen grains the study of which is known as pollen analysis can usually determine the genusand often the exact species producing a certain pollen type. Archaeologists can then use this information to determine the relative ages of some sites and layers within sites.
However, climates do not change rapidly, so this type of analysis is best for archaeological sites dating back to the last ice age. Absolute Dating Methods. Absolute dating methods produce an actual date, usually accurate to within a few years.
This date is established independent of stratigraphy and chronology. If a date for a certain layer in an excavation can be established using an absolute dating method, other artifacts in the same layer can safely be assigned the same age.
Dendrochronology, also known as tree-ring dating, is the earliest form of absolute dating. This method was first developed by the American astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglas at the University of Arizona in the early s.
Weaknesses of potassium-argon dating method
Douglas was trying to develop a correlation between climate variations and sunspot activitybut archaeologists quickly recognized its usefulness as a dating tool. The technique was first applied in the American Southwest and later extended to other parts of the world. Tree-ring dating is relatively simple.
Trees add a new layer of cambium the layer right under the bark every year. The thickness of the layer depends on local weather and climate. In years with plenty of rain, the layer will be thick and healthy. Over the lifetime of the tree, these rings accumulate, and the rings form a record of regional variation in climate that may extend back hundreds of years. Since all of the trees in a region experience the same climate variations, they will have similar growth patterns and similar tree ring patterns.
One tree usually does not cover a period sufficiently long to be archaeologically useful. However, patterns of tree ring growth have been built up by "overlapping" ring sequences from different trees so that the tree ring record extends back several thousand years in many parts of the world.
The process starts with examination of the growth ring patterns of samples from living trees. Then older trees are added to the sequence by overlapping the inner rings of a younger sample with the outer rings of an older sample. Older trees are recovered from old buildings, archaeological sites, peat bogs, and swamps. Eventually, a regional master chronology is constructed. When dendrochronology can be used, it provides the most accurate dates of any technique. In the American Southwest, the accuracy and precision of dendrochronology has enabled the development of one of the most.
Often events can be dated to within a decade. This precision has allowed archaeologists working in the American Southwest to reconstruct patterns of village growth and subsequent abandonment with a fineness of detail unmatched in most of the world.
Radiometric dating methods are more recent than dendrochronology. However, dendrochronology provides an important calibration technique for radiocarbon dating techniques.
All radiometric-dating techniques are based on the well-established principle from physics that large samples of radioactive isotopes decay at precisely known rates.
The rate of decay of a radioactive isotope is usually given by its half-life. The decay of any individual nucleus is completely random. The half-life is a measure of the probability that a given atom will decay in a certain time. The shorter the half-life, the more likely the atom will decay.