Religious controversy of dating bones

Beside a slab of trilobites, in a quiet corner of Britain's Oxford University Museum of Natural History, lies a collection of ochre-tinted human bones known as the Red Lady of Paviland.In 1823, palaeontologist William Buckland painstakingly removed the fossils from a cave in Wales, and discovered ivory rods, shell beads and other ornaments in the vicinity.Members of the Paleochronology group presented their findings at the 2012 Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting in Singapore, August 13-17, a conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society (AOGS).Since dinosaurs are thought to be over 65 million years old, the news is stunning - and more than some can tolerate.This update isn’t about the lawsuit; I have no knowledge of how that is going. Since the current half-life of carbon-14 is “only” about 5,700 years, there should be no detectable levels of it in the original parts of the fossil, if the fossil is millions of years old. Cherkinsky’s lab found very detectable levels of carbon-14.In fact, there was so much carbon-14 in the fossil that it was given a date of 41,010 ± 220 years.Instead, the fossil’s bioapatite (a mineral found in bone) was dated.

“He did a good job of excavating, but he interpreted it totally wrong,” says Tom Higham, a 46-year-old archaeological scientist at the University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.

After the AOGS-AGU conference in Singapore, the abstract was removed from the conference website by two chairmen because they could not accept the findings.

Carbon-14 is considered to be a highly reliable dating technique.

Our investigation has shown that the pretreatment of bone with diluted acetic acid following a proscribed technique allows the separation of the bioapatite fraction from diagenetic carbonates. The lab might not have been able to completely isolate the fossil’s original bioapatite, so the result may have contamination in it.

Please note that “diagenetic carbonates” refer to contaminants that occur during the fossilization process. Since the lab specifically reported a date for the fossil’s bioapatite, I have to assume that the investigators who actually did the preparation and dating think they were dating the fossil’s original bioapatite, not a mixture of bone and contaminants. However, I think it adds to the case that the bone is not millions of years old.

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