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The Carbon Dating Game

Can Scientists Be Trusted to Tell the Truth?

For generations, science has claimed to know how old things are—at least anything organic and less than 50,000 years of age. When any living organism dies, Carbon 14—a radioactive isotope present in all living things—starts to ‘decay,’ or to lose its radioactivity. The rate at which this occurs is considered constant, and measurable, making it possible to deduce roughly the time the creature died. That is the theory, but reality is more complicated. For one thing, the amount of carbon in an organism can vary, depending on just how much is available from the environment, and lately, as we have all been told, that amount has been increasing. So, if the system were calibrated based strictly on present levels, it could produce significant errors. And that is not, it turns out, the method’s only problem, so now a major effort is underway to “reboot” the entire radiocarbon dating system.

The new recalibration of the system seeks to incorporate the latest research from many sources now deemed reliable. The numbers will be cross referenced with data from tree rings, ocean and lake sedimentary layers, corals, stalagmites and many other sources. When published a few months from now, new conversion tables will provide archaeologists with authoritative numbers that can be inserted into their chronological findings. The results are expected to lead to dramatic shifts—by centuries in some cases—in the estimated age of pre-historic samples. (https://www.nature .com/articles/d41586-020-01499-y)

In 2018 archaeologist Sturt Manning from the Cornell University Tree-Ring Laboratory led a major challenge to the carbon dating system. Focusing on the southern Levant region, Manning showed how climate conditions could throw dating calculations off by up to 20 years. His paper, “Fluctuating Radiocarbon Offsets Observed in the Southern Levant and Implications for Archaeological Chronology Debates,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (

Manning’s team questioned many assumption of the system. To obtain calendar dates from organic material, he pointed out, pre-modern radiocarbon chronologies rely on standardized Northern and Southern Hemisphere calibration curves. These standard calibration curves have assumed that at any given time radiocarbon levels are similar and stable everywhere across each hemisphere, but they are not.

In southern Jordan, the authors measured a series of carbon-14 ages in tree rings, with established calendar dates between 1610 and 1940 A.D. They found that contemporary plant material growing in the southern Levant region shows that when compared to the current Northern Hemisphere standard calibration curve, there is an average error in radiocarbon age of about 19 years.

Applying the results to previously published chronologies, Manning’s study showed how even such relatively small discrepancies can shift calendar dates by enough to alter the outcome of ongoing archaeological, historical and paleoclimate debates. (https://www.

A phrase appearing often in archaeology news goes roughly: ‘It’s much older than anyone thought possible.’ The suggestion some might take away from that is that modern timelines for human history on Earth should be thrown out, and that maybe we should start over with a new set of assumptions. Supporting that argument is the case of recently discovered advanced pre-historic drawings and paintings depicting many animal species, now authoritatively dated as at least 10,000 years older than previously—yet authoritatively—published.

In the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc caves of France, for example, sketch work on cave walls clearly reveals the handiwork of  artists whose mastery of line and anatomical detail impresses even the most discriminating experts. Carbon-dating of the charcoal and other residues on the pictures had previously (authoritatively) assigned dates to them between 22,000-18,000 BCE. In 2015, however, comparable art discovered in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulewesi yielded dates of 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, making them briefly, the ‘oldest’ such cave art in the world. But then in 2016, a new paper appeared in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, reporting that the dating of the Chauvet cave art has now been revisited, and that it too—like the Indonesian findings—can now be shown definitively to go back to 33,500 to 37,000 years ago. ( content/113/17/4670.full?sid=91b88654-536c-44aa-b393-dfebe46be805) Should a ten-to-twenty-thousand-year shift in carbon-produced dates be relied upon? Happily, the French tourism industry thinks so. (

As is widely understood, control of timelines is control of historic and prehistory narratives, but it may be too late to save the stories that mainstream history would prefer to be telling us. For another take on time wars read “The Politics of Time,” by John Chambers, from Atlantis Rising Magazine #96, November / December, 2012.

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Issue #96
 The Politics of Time

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The Politics of Time