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The best gauge they have found is dendrochronology: the measurement of age by tree rings.Accurate tree ring records of age are available for a period extending 9,000 years into the past.But what's interesting is as soon as you die and you're not ingesting anymore plants, or breathing from the atmosphere if you are a plant, or fixing from the atmosphere. Once a plant dies, it's no longer taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into new tissue. And this carbon-14 does this decay at a specific rate. And you say, hey, that bone has one half the carbon-14 of all the living things that you see right now.And then you can use that rate to actually determine how long ago that thing must've died. It would be a pretty reasonable estimate to say, well, that thing must be 5,730 years old.Uranium 234, a radioactive element present in the environment, slowly decays to form thorium 230.Using a mass spectrometer, an instrument that accelerates streams of atoms and uses magnets to sort them out according to mass and electric charge, the group has learned to measure the ratio of uranium to thorium very precisely.

So carbon by definition has six protons, but the typical isotope, the most common isotope of carbon is carbon-12. And then that carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the rest of the atmosphere, into our oceans. When people talk about carbon fixation, they're really talking about using mainly light energy from the sun to take gaseous carbon and turn it into actual kind of organic tissue.

It is too soon to know whether the discovery will seriously upset the estimated dates of events like the arrival of human beings in the Western Hemisphere, scientists said.

But it is already clear that the carbon method of dating will have to be recalibrated and corrected in some cases.

Dating Subject to Error But scientists have long recognized that carbon dating is subject to error because of a variety of factors, including contamination by outside sources of carbon.

Therefore they have sought ways to calibrate and correct the carbon dating method.

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