High sensitivity radiocarbon dating in the 50,000 to 70,000 BP range without isotopic enrichment

A. Long, R. Kalin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Calculations show the possibility of detecting C-14 remaining after 10 or 11 decay half-lives in natural materials, such as wood, using commercially available liquid scintillation (LS) detectors. Assuming in-situ C-14 production has contributed insignificantly to the measured C-14, one can calculate finite ages approaching 70 ka. In practice, defensible finite age determinations involve careful considerations of several critical elements in the procedure. These critical elements are: 1) the integrity of the sample itself, in terms of younger contaminants and of in situ-produced C-14; 2) the availability of ''dead'' background material; 3) chemical blank in laboratory preparation of, in this case, benzene; and 4) stability of background and efficiency of the LS counting system. High-sensitivity C-14 dating reveals a low level of memory effect C-14 in benzene synthesized in the laboratory from anthracite or marble. This level of C-14 activity is equivalent to that found in 53 ka old wood, and thus, is not distinguishable from petrochemical benzene used in routine dating. If careful control of laboratory conditions can maintain this C-14 blank constant, reproducible dating beyond 53 ka would be possible. Although we have not completed a systematic analysis of the origins of memory effect, lithium reactors used in acetylene production and organic solvents in wood pretreatment are likely sources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-359
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1992


  • radiocarbon dating
  • natural materials
  • wood
  • isotopic enrichment

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