How does carbon dating work

The method could help shed new light on the history of mummified bodies, old maps, cave paintings, and other treasures, they say.Scientists have developed a new method to determine the age of ancient mummies, old artwork, and other relics without causing damage to these treasures of global cultural heritage.

He acknowledged, however, that it would take a significant amount of data to convince museum directors, art conservators, and others that the new method causes no damage to such priceless objects The scientists are currently refining the technique.Rowe hopes to use it, for instance, to analyze objects such as a small ivory figurine called the "Venus of Brassempouy," thought to be about 25,000 years old and one of the earliest known depictions of a human face.The new method does not involve removing a sample of the object.Conventional carbon dating estimates the age of an artifact based on its content of carbon-14 (C-14), a naturally occurring, radioactive form of carbon.The gas slowly and gently oxidizes the surface of the object to produce carbon dioxide for C-14 analysis without damaging the surface, he said.

Rowe and his colleagues used the technique to analyze the ages of about 20 different organic substances, including wood, charcoal, leather, rabbit hair, a bone with mummified flesh attached, and a 1,350-year-old Egyptian weaving.

Traditional carbon dating involves removing and burning small samples of the object.

Although it sometimes requires taking minute samples of an object, even that damage may be unacceptable for some artifacts.

Rowe's new method, called "non-destructive carbon dating," eliminates sampling, the destructive acid-base washes, and burning.

In the new method, scientists place an entire artifact in a special chamber with a plasma, an electrically charged gas similar to gases used in big-screen plasma television displays.

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