Radiocarbon Dating History: Early Days, Questions, and Problems Met
CitationOlsson, I. U. (2009). Radiocarbon dating history: Early days, questions, and problems met. Radiocarbon, 51(1), 1-43.
AbstractW F Libby's new dating method from the 1940s, based on experience in physics and chemistry, opened possibilities to check and revise chronologies built on other principles than radioactive decay. Libby's method initially implied collaboration with archaeologists to demonstrate that it worked but also with physicists to improve the technique to measure low Beta activities. Chemists, geophysicists, botanists, physiologists, statisticians, and other researchers have contributed to a prosperous interdisciplinary development. Some pitfalls were not recognized from the beginning, although issues such as contamination problems were foreseen by Libby. Pretreatment of samples was discussed very early by de Vries and collaborators, among others. This subject has not yet been abandoned. Closely related to pretreatment is the choice of fraction to be dated and chemicals to be used, especially for accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) measurements. Calibration against tree rings and comparison with dates obtained using other methods as well as intercomparison projects are partly history but still very actual. The impact by man and climate is also studied since the early days of the method. Also, the carbon cycle has been of great interest. The tools for measurements and statistical analysis have been improved during these first 3 or 4 decades, allowing interpretations not possible earlier. 13C determinations are mostly very important and useful, but sometimes they have been misleading in discussions of the origin of carbon, especially for human tissues--the metabolism was not yet fully understood. The history and development of the method can only be illustrated by selected examples in a survey like this.