What are alternatives to carbon dating?

08 June 2008

Question

How many dating systems like carbon dating are there and what age ranges are they suitable for?

Answer

There's quite a few, all of which are types of radioactive dating. They include potassium-argon dating, that's useful for rocks over 100,000 years old. There's also uranium-lead dating, which has an age range of 1-4.5 million years old. It can be used for such long time spans because the half-life of uranium turning into lead is billions of years, in the order of the age of the Earth at 4.5 billion years.

Mike, from Cambridge, also called in to remind us about thermo-luminescence which can be used in pottery, also obsidian hydration and uranium trail dating when you observe the trails left behind by uranium decomposition.

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