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Professor Gordon Cook: Recent Advances in Carbon Dating

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Radiocarbon dating was developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Willard Libby and his co-workers at the University of Chicago. The technique has traditionally been employed within archaeology and has undoubtedly revolutionised the subject by providing the ability to define absolute chronologies where previously only relative ones were possible. During the intervening 70 years, massive changes and advancements in the technique have taken place. These include much greater measurement precision, the requirement for much smaller sample sizes, the incorporation of Bayesian statistical analysis, etc. The fundamentals of the technique will be described together with some discussion of the advances since Libby’s first measurements. Finally, some applications of the technique that form the basis of research at the SUERC laboratory will be outlined. These include the dating of the body in the car park (Richard III), improving upon the dating of the Early Iron Age Loch Tay crannogs (previously no better than a 400-year span (800-400 BC)) and identifying fraudulent Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.

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