Dating methods in archaeology

Four main methods have been used in Willandra archaeology.

This well known method was the first technique that became available for accurate dating of old materials.

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This technique can determine ages between a few hundred years to more than 100,000 years.

It has been used at Willandra to date the layers above and below the location of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man , and the layers above and below the footprints horizon.

Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years so dating is limited to between a few hundred and about 50,000 years. It is also important that samples for dating are collected carefully to ensure they have not been contaminated with more recent carbon.

Radiocarbon analysis can only be used on organic materials, and is often used to date charcoal associated with campfires and archaeological deposits.

This 'law of superimposition' works in the well-defined layers of the Willandra lunettes, but only dates objects as younger or older than adjacent layers.

To determine the year age (absolute age) of an object, a number of chemical and radioactive techniques can be used.These grains absorb radiation over time from the surrounding sediments and the radiation (electrons) remain trapped within the mineral grain structure.When the grain is exposed to intense light of particular wavelengths in the laboratory, it emits a light signal with an intensity proportional to the radiation it has absorbed while buried.Potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating is a radiometric technique that is used to determine the age of minerals that contain potassium, which include clay minerals and micas.It is most useful for minerals older than 100,000 years and can reach way back into the geological past.Working out how old archaeological remains are is a vital part of archaeology.

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