Radiocarbon dating calibration curve
Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
The radiocarbon method was developed by a team of scientists led by the late Professor Willard F.
Libby of the University of Chicago in immediate post-WW2 years.
Measurements can be made with a high degree of precision. Aardsma submitted a sample from a reed mat known to be over 5,000 years old.
The measurement, before calibration, came back with an error bar of /- about 60 radiocarbon years. It should be noted that these measurement uncertainties do not increase linearly as one goes back in time.
Even for the first investigation, there was a possibility of using radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the linen from which the shroud was woven.
The size of the sample then required, however, was ~500cm, which would clearly have resulted in an unacceptable amount of damage, and it was not until the development in the 1970s of small gas-counters and accelerator-mass-spectrometry techniques (AMS), requiring samples of only a few square centimetres, that radiocarbon dating of the shroud became a real possibility. The shroud was separated from the backing cloth along its bottom left-hand edge and a strip (~10 mm x 70 mm) was cut from just above the place where a sample was previously removed in 1973 for examination.
Radiocarbon dating has been one of the most significant discoveries in 20th century science."Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].Modern accelerator mass spectrometry (used for radiocarbon dating purposes to separate radiocarbon atoms from stable carbon atoms and count them) is quite precise.The technology involved is fascinating and impressive.