How Does Carbon Dating Work
Comparing the palaeographic and radiocarbon dating of the scrolls, the study published in concluded that G. Therefore a calibration is required, which, to be accurate and precise, should ideally be based on an absolutely dated record that has carbon incorporated directly from the atmosphere at the time of formation. These values have been derived through statistical means. This is comparable with the "rule of thumb" of at least a range of 70 to 80 years used in palaeography for dating a manuscript. Petersburg, Russia, where it was studied by the Russian orientalist A. One of the fundamental tenets of radiocarbon dating is that within each hemisphere there was sufficient mixing of the pre-industrial atmosphere to allow the use of a universal 14 C calibration dataset.
What is Radiocarbon Dating?
One of the great benefits and advantages of this method of dating is that scholarly prejudice and pre-suppositions regarding the genesis of Arabic scripts and Qur'anic manuscripts are not factored into the calculation. However, the carbon dating points to a slightly earlier date. More recently in some other Dead Sea Scrolls were dated A. This manuscript was privately acquired by C. Petersburg ", Manuscripta Orientalia , , op. Strained, arbitrary and impossible interpretations of science, in our case of the science of radiocarbon dating, can lead to endless possibilities, i. Due to their fragile nature combined with regular use of the Qur'an, these manuscripts may not have survived.
The measurements on both the sample and the tree rings have a limited precision. This will give rise to a range of possible calendar years. Furthermore, since the atmospheric radiocarbon concentration has varied in the past, there might be several possible ranges. In any scientific measurement, including the analytical 14 C measurement, its repetition every time under identical conditions on an identical sample leads to a slightly different result.
That is if a radiocarbon measurement is performed ten times on a single sample under near identical conditions, then the result obtained will have ten different values, with identical results occurring by chance. This scatter in the measurement data highlights the effects of small errors [Figure 1 a ]. Every individual experiment is influenced by small but uncontrollable changes in the measurement conditions or in the source material itself.
To this, one must also add the fact that the radiocarbon decay itself is a random process which will also add minor errors. Such variation in values is interpreted as the effect of small but random errors, which themselves are varying. It is the variation in the group of replicate measurements that establishes the means to calculate the measurement uncertainty.
Random error must be distinguished from a systematic error. The latter remains constant and cannot be reduced by doing repeated measurements.
However, if the source of the systematic error can be identified, it can be eliminated. The error in a measurement consists of both random and systematic errors. The combined effect of these errors produce an uncertainty and it is calculated using statistical methods.
The expectation is to get one single data value every time left , however, the actual result is spread in the data due to random and systematic errors right. The peak indicates the point where the mean of the data lies whilst the drooping curve gives an idea of the spread of data.
Precision in measurement characterises the degree of agreement among a series of individual and independent measurements under identical conditions. The actual interpretation of such ranges in terms of "confidence" depends on the probability distribution model chosen to model the error. Summing the discussion, the true age of the sample is highly likely to lie within the measurement uncertainty or within the range.
However, calendar ages obtained from radiocarbon dating are quite complicated with multimodal distribution. Figure 2 also gives an idea of what is probable and what is impossible. As for the counting error, it can be reduced by improved counting statistics and is achieved by increasing counting time. In the AMS technique, this is usually limited by the sample size as well as performance and stability of the AMS device.
Accuracy describes the difference between the calculated radiocarbon and the true age of a sample. Measurement precision and accuracy are not linked and are independent of one another [Figure 1 c ]. Radiocarbon laboratories check their accuracy using measurements of known age samples. These can be either independently-known-age samples, or those for which a agreed uponage has been derived such as from an interlaboratory trial. Both precision and accuracy in radiocarbon dating are highly desired properties.
The precision of a 14 C age is quantified with the associated quoted error, however, it should be borne in mind that the basis of the calculation of the error may be different depending on the laboratory.
Through the use of repeated measurements of a homogeneous material, the estimated precision associated with a 14 C age can be assessed indirectly. However, in radiocarbon dating laboratories, such repeated measurements of a single sample of unknown age are often impossible. Consequently a radiometric laboratory will typically conduct numerous measurements of a secondary standard and use the variation in the given results to establish a sample-independent estimate of precision , which can then be compared with the classical counting error statistic, which is derived for each unknown-age sample.
In other words, for a single measured radiocarbon age, the commonly quoted error is based on counting statistics and is used to determine the uncertainty associated with the 14 C age. The quoted error will include components due to other laboratory corrections and is assumed to represent the spread we would see were we able to repeat the measurement many times.
We are now left with two more terms: The term repeatability refers to measurements made under identical conditions in a single laboratory, whilst reproducibility refers to measurements made in different laboratories and under different conditions. Both repeatability and reproducibility provide the closeness of agreement between the 14 C ages under two different scenarios. In order to have a better understanding of how the process of radiocarbon dating works, let us take the example of radiocarbon data from E20 manuscript , housed in the St.
Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies. A detailed history of this manuscript was published by Efim Rezvan in The main elements of Figure 3 a are as follows:. The age of BP is calculated using the simplistic assumption that the amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere has always been the same.
Earlier we have noted that this is not quite the case except that it is a rough indication of the age. Hence the measurement must be calibrated against samples of known ages, for example, the tree rings. The radiocarbon data and the calibration curve are used to plot the probability distribution of the age of the manuscript. In the case of the E20 manuscript from St. No technique is perfect and radiocarbon dating is no exception.
Although with this technique almost any sample of organic material can be directly dated, it suffers from a number of limitations. The theory discussed below is summarized from here. Radiocarbon dating of Qur'anic manuscripts is very rare, though this is beginning to change. With the advent of the Corpus Coranicum project, carbon dating has been given pride of place with a specially named module Computatio Radiocarbonica. The aim here is to supplement traditional methods for dating the earliest Qur'anic manuscripts with modern scientific methods.
It should be highlighted that when conducting radiocarbon analysis, almost any date within the specified range generated by the confidence level is equally possible scientifically. It is not the case that the range can be averaged to find the most probable date due to the fact that there usually exists a complex multi-modal probability distribution.
The carbon dating is applicable to the scriptio inferior text. Folios of a Mingana Islamic Arabic a and Arabe c. Both these manuscripts belong to the same codex. The core Mingana Collection, of manuscripts and manuscript fragments, was built up between through the common interest and energy of Dr. Edward Cadbury and Alphonse Mingana. Edward Cadbury, owner of family's chocolate factory at Bournville, sponsored Alphonse Mingana in three journeys to the Middle East, and subsequently engaged Mingana to catalogue much of the collection.
The two folios of Mingana Islamic Arabic a manuscript belong to the same codex as Arabe c. These folios have now been subjected to radiocarbon analysis at the University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and have been dated to — CE with Folios a 1 recto and b 24 recto of Ms. Whilst serving in his position as first Prussian Consul to Damascus in the middle of the 19th century, Johann Gottfried Wetzstein made numerous acquisitions of ancient Arabic manuscripts, many of which belonged to the Qur'an.
In his foreword to a small catalogue he published, Wetzstein said he hoped these more than 1, kufic folios of the Qur'an he had collected would be of some interest to those involved in palaeography and Qur'anic criticism, and gave a brief entry for M a VI Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer from the University of Saarland, Germany, studied this manuscript in great detail from the point of view of script, ornamentation and illumination.
This monumental Qur'anic manuscript originally had dimensions around 51 cm in length by 47 cm in width Figure Its origin appears to be from Syria. However, the radiocarbon dating of this manuscript suggests a date between and CE. Certain features of the manuscript and the iconography intimate that this work was made for a member of the Umayyad family; historical circumstances suggest that caliph al-Walid himself may have commissioned it.
However, the carbon dating points to a slightly earlier date. Here it is interesting to note that both the palaeographic considerations and radiocarbon dating have arrived at nearly the same conclusion, i. However, as von Bothmer has noted, the radiocarbon dating gives a slightly earlier date. This could be due to the fact that the radiocarbon dating gives the death of animal and not when the manuscript was actually written.
The most famous of them is the Chester Beatty Moritz published details of the twenty ornamented pages. This privately-owned fragment of the Qur'an was published recently by Yasin Dutton [Figure 11 a ]. The radiocarbon dating of the fragment was carried out at the University of Oxford [Figure 11 b ].
Two calibration data-sets, viz. The results are as follows. Since the time of this test in , a newer calibration data-set, INTCAL04, has yielded slightly narrower results for the same radiocarbon age i. Likewise, the test on E20 Qur'anic manuscript in St. Petersburg yielded a year range — CE.
In these two cases, neither of them help very much in establishing a narrow and possibly accurate date for these particular manuscripts.
This fragment is remarkably similar to two other published folios and it has been concluded that they all come from the same codex. The E20 manuscript , housed in the St.
Commenting on the script and decoration, he suggests a date nearer the turn of the 1st century AH late 7th, early 8th century CE.
Folios of a Leiden Or. They were purchased by the University Library of Leiden in from H. Jorissen, the former Dutch Ambassador to Beirut. This manuscript has been subject to radiocarbon analysis under the auspices of the Corpus Coranicum project and has been dated to — CE with Late in the 19th century the manuscript was in St. Petersburg, Russia, where it was studied by the Russian orientalist A.
So great was the interest in this codex that in Pisarev or Pissareff was encouraged to publish a facsimile edition. Petersberg, a number of folios were separated from this manuscript and over the years a number of folios have appeared under the hammer at auction or have been sold privately between collectors. It was found in North Africa. This is a massive Qur'anic manuscript on vellum showing a well-formed kufic script without diacritical marks and ornamentation.
The verse endings are marked by small panels of diagonals lines; the tenth verse is marked with a square medallion illuminated in blue, green, red and manganese with a stellar design. Shebunin dated this manuscript to the early second century hijra. Pisarev,  Jeffery dated it to the early ninth century.
The recto side of folio of manuscript Leiden Or. This manuscript was privately acquired by C. Van Arendonk was a curator of the Leiden Oriental collections. Qur'ans written on papyrus are quite rare. This is because papyrus, unlike parchment, is not as durable a material for everyday use. Due to their fragile nature combined with regular use of the Qur'an, these manuscripts may not have survived. The recent radiocarbon dating of this papyrus under the auspices of the Corpus Coranicum project gave a date range of — CE with This privately-owned fragment of the Qur'an is unpublished and remains in the private collection of Professor Dr.
Mark Mersiowsky, located in Stuttgart, Germany. This manuscript, consisting of one folio only, was subject to radiocarbon analysis under the auspices of the Corpus Coranicum project and has been dated to — CE with This Qur'an is written on 7 lines per page measuring on average A folio from Arabe m belongs to Codex R.
This small Qur'an is written on 6 lines per page measuring on average just The largest section is kept under shelfmark R. Additionally there are four other folios, Ms. Arabe m , ff. A folio from Ms. This Qur'an is written on 5 lines per page measuring on average Numerous folios have been acquired on the open market and are scattered around the world in various public and private collections.
Table I below provides a summary of radiocarbon dated manuscripts of the Qur'an that have been described and fully referenced in the previous section. Some manuscripts were dated several times to understand the accuracy of the process as well as to presumably check the location-dependent changes in dating that may be observed. List of radiocarbon dated manuscripts of Qur'an.
As shown in Table I, it has been radiocarbon-dated in five different labs in five different countries. This also serves as a platform to independently verify the agreement on dating performed in various laboratories.
Agreement between independent radiocarbon tests conducted at different laboratories is a very useful method for weeding out aberrations due to mishandling of samples. One may conclude that the radiocarbon tests completed at Lyon are suspect due to their irreproducibility. The application of radiocarbon dating to early Qur'ans has also resulted in a raft of questionable, bizarre and even absurd hypotheses from non-scientists.
It is not clear whether such attempts are to anchor their own chronological reconstruction of history or to construct a totally "new science" to extricate their version of history. We will examine some of these prominent hypotheses below. Being well served by historians, is Qur'anic studies really in need of carbon dating?
After all there are some major drawbacks to this method - it is very expensive and destructive. Other serious issues include the wide range of calendar years in which a manuscript could have been written.
Scholars have successfully utilised "traditional" dating methods such as palaeography, codicology and art history that utilise script, format, ornamentation and illumination which are then compared, where possible, with their dated counterparts in architecture.
In short, why bother? Being a modern invention, some historians have become unduly skeptical in embracing radiocarbon dating. Two Qur'ans, both with endowment notices, were carbon dated by the Centre de Datation par le Radiocarbone de Lyon, France, and provided a range of dates that preceded the date given in the endowment notices by around 50 and years, respectively.
It is also important to remember that the carbon dating of parchment is an imprecise science something indicated by the large range of possible dates given for the various fragments. An imprecise science does not follow the scientific method - the method that involves testing an idea and modifying the idea to fit the evidence. Radiocarbon dating utilizes the knowledge of the unstable nature of 14 C with a precise half-life that makes it easy to measure, thus making it an absolute dating method.
As a test, in , Willard Libby and his team took samples of acacia from two ancient Egyptian Old Kingdom rulers and dated them. Therefore, it is clear that radiocarbon dating is not based on some imprecise science, cooking up evidence to fit the idea or data.
On the other hand, palaeography is a relative dating method which gives an order of events without giving an exact age. Thus, generally speaking, it cannot be used to pinpoint dates with high precision. Is palaeography a form of science? Commenting on the issues regarding the dating of inscriptions, William M. The so-called science of paleography often relies on circular reasoning because there is insufficient data to draw precise conclusion about dating.
Scholars also tend to oversimplify diachronic development, assuming models of simplicity rather than complexity. In other words, palaeography can at best be termed as an inexact science, filled with uncertainties and imprecisions. It is not judicious to upscale palaeography for its reliability whilst, on the other hand, putting down radiocarbon dating for its alleged lack thereof. So, what is the general "rule of thumb" followed in dating manuscripts via palaeography?
This kind of precision dating defies the realities of scribal activity. The productive writing life of a scribe was probably around thirty or thirty-five years.
Add to that the fact that the scribal profession was an apprenticed trade, with students learning a particular style from a teacher, and we find that a given hand may be present over multiple generations of scribes. Thus the "rule of thumb" should probably be to avoid dating a hand more precisely than a range of at least seventy or eighty years.
This is comparable with the "rule of thumb" of at least a range of 70 to 80 years used in palaeography for dating a manuscript. Unlike radiocarbon dating, it is worth noting that a range of 70 to 80 years used in palaeography has no confidence level attached to it. The choice of whether to believe in such a "confidence level" is entirely up to an individual. In any case, the Birmingham results suggest that Lyon might not have botched the job after all. Intriguingly, the first date range from Lyon — corresponds rather closely to the date range given from a laboratory in Oxford for the Birmingham manuscript — What is telling here is the fact that Reynolds, instead of using a scientific approach to look at the problem, applies his own reasoning that must necessarily accord with his preferred historical interpretation.
How does one make a rational choice as to which date, if any, out of these three is correct? The answer is that there is no way of knowing if Lyon botched the job unless these three dates are independently compared with those obtained from other labs.
Reynolds makes no attempt to use the scientific method here. Nevertheless, the dating of these manuscripts has proven to be highly problematic and controversial. Suffice to say that the process of radiocarbon dating does not seem to be working accurately on these materials. For instance, one such manuscript, now in Birmingham, England, has been given a date range that places it before Muhammad began his religious movement.
It is not clear as to why the radiocarbon dating of these manuscripts is inaccurate. Furthermore, how does Shoemaker know that the dating is inaccurate? Has he got independent, consistent and reliable radiocarbon data of each of these manuscripts which can prove his case? It is worthwhile pointing out that when applied to parchments in fields other than Qur'anic studies, radiocarbon dating has yielded results that are "generally Shoemaker says the Qur'an could predate Muhammad but elsewhere his radical reinterpretation of Islam's origins necessitates he cannot accept a date for the codification i.
For him the Qur'an can predate or antedate Muhammad; that it could coincide is not a consideration. Here the problem may lie with the conditions arid or semi-arid climate under which the cattle, the hides of which were later turned into parchment, was raised. Thus, according to his view, the arid or semi-arid climate in which the parchment for Qur'anic manuscripts were produced does not lend itself to accurate radiocarbon dating.
There are numerous problems with this view. As we had noted earlier, radiocarbon 14 C is produced via the cosmogenic process and this happens at stratospheric altitudes of 9 to 15 km above the surface of the Earth. In general, the cosmic rays flux remains constant and observed fluctuations in production rate of 14 C are controlled by geomagnetic field strength and solar activity.
Thus seasonal changes and presence of moisture on the surface of the Earth have no effect on the production rate of 14 C. What about the variation of decay of radiocarbon 14 C due to the chemical environment around the atom? Thus, the variation of just a percentage or so, is much too small to affect Earth's overall time scale and consequently the radiocarbon dating itself.
If one were to instead use the data from the southern hemisphere and we are talking about Arabia here , I am told by those more expert in this procedure than me that very different datings would result. To begin with, Arabia is not in the Southern Hemisphere. It is situated in the Northern Hemisphere between the latitudes The Tropic of Cancer at As for the global atmospheric radiocarbon content, it is controlled by several factors such as climatic changes, oceanic circulation, solar output and geomagnetic variability.
It has been demonstrated that Southern Hemisphere samples have lower 14 C contents. The question now is how much older are the radiocarbon samples from the Southern Hemisphere compared to the Northern Hemisphere?
Furthermore, it is not surprising that the calibration data set for the Northern Hemisphere IntCal series  is different from that of the Sourthern Hemisphere SHCal series ,  and that these are frequently updated to fine tune the respective calibration curves.
That is, these manuscripts are from 1st century of hijra. Shoemaker's argument against radiocarbon dating shifts from raising the inter-hemispheric offset to intra-hemispheric changes in radiocarbon content. The problem, it would seem, is that radiocarbon dating in the medieval period is only accurate when it can be calibrated by tree ring data, particularly from oak trees.
Such data is wanting for the medieval Mediterranean or Near East, and the data from the northern hemisphere that has been used to calibrate these tests was taken from Ireland and North America. There are several inaccuracies in the above set of statements. The work of the Aegean Dendrochronology Project started in s and since then it has continued since to build the long tree-ring chronologies for the eastern half of the Mediterranean. Its aim was to make scientific sense of the Aegean and Near Eastern chronology from the Neolithic Age to the present.
The most recent state as of late of the Aegean tree-ring chronology is shown in Figure 23 which also appeared in a slightly expanded form in The state of Aegean tree-ring chronologies as of late This is an update of the bar graph published in Less common species such as boxwood and yew are removed in this plot.
Now that we have established the fact that the dendrochronological data from oak trees among others already exist, let us now look into the issue of calibration.
Shoemaker says that since the calibration is done using the tree-ring data from Ireland and North America, it can't be trusted for dating medieval Mediterranean and Near East samples.
The tacit assumption of his claim is that the chronology derived from the tree-ring data from Ireland and North America is very different from what is obtained from the Mediterranean and Near East samples. One of the fundamental tenets of radiocarbon dating is that within each hemisphere there was sufficient mixing of the pre-industrial atmosphere to allow the use of a universal 14 C calibration dataset. On the issue of calibration, it must be mentioned that the dendrochronological database for the IntCal04 curve is largely similar to the dataset of the IntCal98 curve, but also includes new measurements for the Iron Age period, for example, German Oak samples run for the East Mediterranean Radiocarbon Comparison Project.
A trial run of the model against the IntCal04 calibration curve gave essentially similar results, albeit that the dates become slightly older. Reynolds, on the other hand, claimed that the dating of Dead Sea Scrolls may be considered more accurate than the dating of manuscripts of Qur'an. His reasoning is as follows:. This allows scientists to calibrate their measurements more precisely. This is entirely erroneous. The tree ring atmospheric radiocarbon calibration data set spanning 0 to 12, years BP is used Figure It is superior to all other atmospheric radiocarbon calibration data due to the number and quality of the radiocarbon measurements and the accuracy and precision of the tree dendrochronology.
Schematic diagram of IntCal04 and Marine04 calibration data set construction. The IntCal09 uses a similar data set. Said scraps of linen and piece of leather are dated using the standard calibration data set. It appears that Reynolds does not properly comprehend how radiocarbon calibration curves are constructed.
Strained, arbitrary and impossible interpretations of science, in our case of the science of radiocarbon dating, can lead to endless possibilities, i. We have already seen specific examples in the above sub-sections. Here we are going to deal with historical constructions or possibilities that have been put forth which are a result of interpretations of radiocarbon dating, more specifically of the Mingana folios at Birmingham.
Parchment was an expensive material the skin of the entire animal was used to produce the big folio. Beta particles are products of radiocarbon decay.
In this method, the carbon sample is first converted to carbon dioxide gas before measurement in gas proportional counters takes place. Liquid scintillation counting is another radiocarbon dating technique that was popular in the s. In this method, the sample is in liquid form and a scintillator is added. This scintillator produces a flash of light when it interacts with a beta particle. A vial with a sample is passed between two photomultipliers, and only when both devices register the flash of light that a count is made.
Accelerator mass spectrometry AMS is a modern radiocarbon dating method that is considered to be the more efficient way to measure radiocarbon content of a sample. In this method, the carbon 14 content is directly measured relative to the carbon 12 and carbon 13 present.
The method does not count beta particles but the number of carbon atoms present in the sample and the proportion of the isotopes. Not all materials can be radiocarbon dated. Most, if not all, organic compounds can be dated. Samples that have been radiocarbon dated since the inception of the method include charcoal , wood , twigs, seeds , bones , shells , leather, peat , lake mud, soil , hair, pottery , pollen , wall paintings, corals, blood residues, fabrics , paper or parchment, resins, and water , among others.
Physical and chemical pretreatments are done on these materials to remove possible contaminants before they are analyzed for their radiocarbon content.
The radiocarbon age of a certain sample of unknown age can be determined by measuring its carbon 14 content and comparing the result to the carbon 14 activity in modern and background samples. The principal modern standard used by radiocarbon dating labs was the Oxalic Acid I obtained from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.
This oxalic acid came from sugar beets in When the stocks of Oxalic Acid I were almost fully consumed, another standard was made from a crop of French beet molasses.
Over the years, other secondary radiocarbon standards have been made. Radiocarbon activity of materials in the background is also determined to remove its contribution from results obtained during a sample analysis. Background samples analyzed are usually geological in origin of infinite age such as coal, lignite, and limestone.
A radiocarbon measurement is termed a conventional radiocarbon age CRA. The CRA conventions include a usage of the Libby half-life, b usage of Oxalic Acid I or II or any appropriate secondary standard as the modern radiocarbon standard, c correction for sample isotopic fractionation to a normalized or base value of These values have been derived through statistical means.
American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity. He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample.
Iamges: carbon dating method
In practice, there are limitations. The images above are reproduced from the stated sources under the provisions of the copyright law.
Thus seasonal changes and presence of moisture on the surface of the Earth have no effect on the production rate of 14 C. The IntCal09 uses a similar data set.
This is entirely erroneous. Notice their choice of samples in the carbon dating method below:. Edinburgh Scotlandpp. Beta Analytic does not accept pharmaceutical samples with "tracer Carbon" or any other material containing artificial Carbon to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination. The most famous of them is the Chester Beatty Faulty carbon dating method of the scientific principles underpinning this radiometric dating technique have caused some modern scholars working in Islamic Studies to imagine improbable and sometimes absurd hypotheses.
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