Carbon dating human fossils

18-Aug-2016 16:29

Aboveground, the surrounding Ethiopian landscape at the northern end of the Rift Valley looked barren, but the field team knew that a bounteous crop of fossils could lurk just beneath the surface.Just 40 miles away, an earlier generation of paleoanthropologists in 1974 had unearthed the partial skeleton of the famous “Lucy,” a 3.2-million-year-old hominid.Carbon-14 cannot be used to date biological artifacts of organisms that did not get their carbon dioxide from the air.

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According to a pair of newly published papers in the journal Science, paleoanthropologists working in Ethiopia have discovered a 2.8-million-year-old jawbone, making it the oldest fossil in the human ancestral line ever found by more than 400,000 years.Levels of carbon-14 become difficult to measure and compare after about 50,000 years (between 8 and 9 half lives; where 1% of the original carbon-14 would remain undecayed).