Carbon dating equipment
The carbon-14 method was developed by the American physicist Willard F. It has proved to be a versatile technique of dating fossils and archaeological specimens from 500 to 50,000 years old.
But while the difficulties of single life may be intractable, the challenge of determining the age of prehistoric artifacts and fossils is greatly aided by measuring certain radioactive isotopes.
However, for samples aged around 50,000 years or older, accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) is the only method that is sensitive enough to detect the minute amounts of remaining carbon-14.
This involves ionizing the carbon compounds, accelerating them to extremely high energies with a particle accelerator and bending the ions' paths with an electric field.
De Natale and colleagues have overcome this problem by using a technique they first unveiled last year, called saturated absorption cavity ring-down (SCAR) spectroscopy.
SCAR involves firing the laser into a cavity with a mirror at either end – essentially "filling" the cavity with light that bounces back and forth.