Potassium argon dating hominids

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Potassium-argon is ideal for dating early hominid fossils in East Africa, for they occur in an area that was volcanically active when the fossils were deposited between one and five million years ago; pioneering results in the 1950s doubled previous estimates of their age.This method involves counting microscopic tracks caused by fragments derived from fission of uranium-238 in glassy minerals, whether geological or of human manufacture.These techniques both place assemblages of artefacts into relative order.Petrie used sequence dating to work back from the earliest historical phases of Egypt into pre-dynastic Neolithic times, using groups of contemporary artefacts deposited together at a single time in graves.Radiocarbon dating was one peaceful by-product of accelerated wartime research into atomic physics and radioactivity in the 1940s.The rate of decay of 14C, which has a half-life of 5730 (40) years, is long enough to allow samples of carbon as old as 70,000 years to contain detectable levels of radioactive emissions, but short enough for samples from periods since the late Stone Age to be measured with reasonable precision.In contrast, dating the change of one form of amino acid to another is derivative because the rate of alteration varies, and is heavily dependent on the temperature and humidity of the context where the sample has been buried.

They identified a succession of Ice Ages alternating with temperate conditions (glacials and interglacials) which - if they could be dated - would reveal much about the evolution of early humans in the context of changing environmental conditions.

Wood only survives under exceptionally wet or dry conditions, and large timbers must be recovered to provide sufficient rings for valid comparisons because they rely on patterns that accumulated over several decades.

The successful development in the early twentieth century of radiometric methods relying upon radioactive decay for dating geological periods offered hope that a similar technique might be found to give absolute dates for prehistoric archaeology.

The extent of documentation varied considerably in 'historical' cultures and the information that survives is determined by a variety of factors.

If a context containing burnt debris and broken artefacts is excavated on a site from a historical period, it is tempting to search the local historical framework for references to warfare or a disaster in the region, and to date the excavated context accordingly.

The transformation of archaeological dating that began around 1950 continues, but archaeologists may overlook the revolution in scientific dating that had already taken place in geology during the first half of the twentieth century; from this wider perspective, the emergence of radiocarbon dating may seem slightly less dramatic Accurate knowledge of the age of the Earth was of little direct help to archaeologists, but it emphasised the potential of scientific dating techniques.

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