Determining the Age of Artifacts
When you tour a museum and see a display of artifacts, you probably wonder how old the artifacts are. Archeologists feel the
same way. When they discover artifacts, they want to determine how old they are. By knowing how old an artifact is, the
archeologists can learn more about the people who created the artifact. They’ll have a better idea what life was like during
that time period.
Archeologists use several methods to determine the age of artifacts. Because these objects help archeologists, researchers,
and sociologists learn about ancient civilizations, it’s important to know how old found artifacts are.
When they uncover an ancient artifact, archeologists try to determine its numerical or chronological age by analyzing the
chemical and physical characteristics of the object. A variety of tests exist, and the test that is used often depends on
the projected age of the object and the material from which the object is made.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, some archeologists and scientists have looked to atom behavior as a means of
determining the age of certain materials. One method often used is radiocarbon dating, also called carbon-14 dating.
Radiocarbon dating was an important discovery made during the 1900s. It has greatly aided archeologists in their quest for
more information about the artifacts they discover.
Radiocarbon dating was discovered by Professor Libby of the University of Chicago following World War II. The way Radiocarbon
dating works is that it measures the radioactive decay of carbon-14 and can be used to tell the age of organic artifacts.
Researches measure how much carbon-14 exists in the artifact. This measurement then enables them to determine the age of the
Not all artifacts can be tested with Radiocarbon dating. Another method used is Potassium-argon dating. Potassium-argon
dating can be used with non-organic materials, such as rocks. Moreover, it can test the age of rocks that much older than
the organic artifacts that can be tested with Radiocarbon dating.
Although organic artifacts cannot be tested this way, the way rocks are dated using the Potassium-argon method is that as
potassium breaks down over time, it becomes a gas called argon-40. Since scientists know the rate at which potassium decays,
they can compare the potassium to argon ratio in rock and determine the age.
Potassium-argon testing is perfect to use on non-organic materials because it allows scientists to date much older materials
than radiocarbon dating. When artifacts are made of rock, such as rudimentary tools and utensils, they can be examined using
Many other methods are used by archeologists and scientists to determine the age of artifacts. Some methods consider the
amount of heat the artifacts have been exposed to by the sun or fire. As technology progresses, more methods of determining
the age of artifacts are being discovered.
All of these methods, both old and new, are used by archeologists to uncover more information about the way people used to
live many centuries ago. With this information, we get an invaluable glimpse into the past.