Carbon dating study

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The often-cited research from three decades ago saw the Catholic Church allow independent laboratories in England, the United States, and Switzerland to subject portions of the alleged relic to radiocarbon testing in order to determine its age.

Since the 1960s, scientists have started accounting for the variations by calibrating the clock against the known ages of tree rings.

As a rule, carbon dates are younger than calendar dates: a bone carbon-dated to 10,000 years is around 11,000 years old, and 20,000 carbon years roughly equates to 24,000 calendar years.

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.

The researchers collected roughly 70-metre core samples from the lake and painstakingly counted the layers to come up with a direct record stretching back 52,000 years.

Preserved leaves in the cores — “they look fresh as if they’ve fallen very recently”, Bronk Ramsey says — yielded 651 carbon dates that could be compared to the calendar dates of the sediment they were found in.

Organisms capture a certain amount of carbon-14 from the atmosphere when they are alive.

By measuring the ratio of the radio isotope to non-radioactive carbon, the amount of carbon-14 decay can be worked out, thereby giving an age for the specimen in question.

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