A layer with many pieces of a particular style will be represented by a wide band on the graph, and a layer with only a few pieces will be represented by a narrow band.
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The bands are arranged into battleship-shaped curves, with each style getting its own curve. The curves are then compared with one another, and from this the relative ages of the styles are determined. A limitation to this method is that it assumes all differences in artifact styles are the result of different periods of time, and are not due to the immigration of new cultures into the area of study.
The term faunal dating refers to the use of animal bones to determine the age of sedimentary layers or objects such as cultural artifacts embedded within those layers. Scientists can determine an approximate age for a layer by examining which species or genera of animals are buried in it.
The technique works best if the animals belonged to species that evolved quickly, expanded rapidly over a large area, or suffered a mass extinction. In addition to providing rough absolute dates for specimens buried in the same stratigraphic unit as the bones, faunal analysis can also provide relative ages for objects buried above or below the fauna-encasing layers. Each year seed-bearing plants release large numbers of pollen grains. This process results in a "rain" of pollen that falls over many types of environments. Pollen that ends up in lakebeds 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.
Scientists can develop a pollen chronology, or calendar, by noting which species of pollen were deposited earlier in time, that is, residue in deeper sediment or rock layers, than others. A pollen zone is a period of time in which a particular species is much more abundant than any other species of the time.
In most cases, this also reveals much about the climate of the period, because most plants only thrive in specific climatic conditions. Changes in pollen zones can also indicate changes in human activities such as massive deforestation or new types of farming. Pastures for grazing livestock are distinguishable from fields of grain, so changes in the use of the land over time are recorded in the pollen history. The dates when areas of North America were first settled by immigrants can be determined to within a few years by looking for the introduction of ragweed pollen.
Pollen zones are translated into absolute dates by the use of radiocarbon dating. In addition, pollen dating provides relative dates beyond the limits of radiocarbon 40, years , and can be used in some places where radiocarbon dates are unobtainable. Fluorine is found naturally in ground water. This water comes in contact with skeletal remains under ground. When this occurs, the fluorine in the water saturates the bone, changing the mineral composition. Over time, more and more fluorine incorporates itself into the bone.
By comparing the relative amounts of fluorine composition of skeletal remains, one can determine whether the remains were buried at the same time. A bone with a higher fluorine composition has been buried for a longer period of time. Absolute dating is the term used to describe any dating technique that tells how old a specimen is in years.
These are generally analytical methods, and are carried out in a laboratory. Absolute dates are also relative dates, in that they tell which specimens are older or younger than others. Absolute dates must agree with dates from other relative methods in order to be valid. This dating technique of amino acid racimization was first conducted by Hare and Mitterer in , and was popular in the s. It requires a much smaller sample than radiocarbon dating, and has a longer range, extending up to a few hundred thousand years. It has been used to date coprolites fossilized feces as well as fossil bones and shells.
These types of specimens contain proteins embedded in a network of minerals such as calcium. 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. Living organisms with the exception of some microbes synthesize and incorporate only the L-form into proteins. When these organisms die, the L-amino acids are slowly converted into D-amino acids in a process called racimization.
The protons are quickly replaced, but will return to either side of the amino acid, not necessarily to the side from which they came. 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, temperature , and pH of the postmortem conditions.
The higher the temperature, the faster the reaction occurs, so the cooler the burial environment, the greater the dating range. The burial conditions are not always known, however, and can be difficult to estimate. For this reason, and because some of the amino acid racimization dates have disagreed with dates achieved by other methods, the technique is no longer widely used. Cation-ratio dating is used to date rock surfaces such as stone artifacts and cliff and ground drawings. It can be used to obtain dates that would be unobtainable by more conventional methods such as radiocarbon dating.
Scientists use cation-ratio dating to determine how long rock surfaces have been exposed. They do this by chemically analyzing the varnish that forms on these surfaces. 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 potential errors.
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.
Thermoluminescence dating is very 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.
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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. The process of displacing electrons begins again after the object cools. 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. Thermoluminescence dating has the advantage of covering the time interval between radiocarbon and potassium-argon dating , or 40, — , years.
In addition, it can be used to date materials that cannot be dated with these other two methods.
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Optically stimulated luminescence OSL has only been used since It is very similar to thermoluminescence dating, both of which are considered "clock setting" techniques. 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 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 than , years old. 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. 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 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. Radioactive decay dating is not a single method of absolute dating but instead a group of related methods for absolute dating of samples. 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.
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 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.
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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 dioxide , and animals get most of their carbon from plants or from animals that eat plants. 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.
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 them to determine how much 14 C has formed since the death of the organism.