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But that assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock.
Various geologic, atmospheric and solar processes can influence atmospheric carbon-14 levels.
Take the extinction of Neanderthals, which occurred in western Europe less than 30,000 years ago.
Archaeologists vehemently disagree over the effects changing climate and competition from recently arriving humans had on the Neanderthals' demise.
But if the carbon dating results actually conflict with their ideas, they aren't too concerned. Thorpe, Nikos Kokkinos, Robert Morkot and John Frankish), Preface to Centuries of Darkness, 1991)So, is carbon dating accurate?
"This attitude is clearly reflected in a regrettably common practice: when a radiocarbon date agrees with the expectations of the excavator it appears in the main text of the site report; if it is slightly discrepant it is relegated to a footnote; if it seriously conflicts it is left out altogether." (Peter James, et al. It is for specimens which only date back a few thousand years.
The researchers collected roughly 70-metre core samples from the lake and painstakingly counted the layers to come up with a direct record stretching back 52,000 years.