Flood/Bristlecone Pine: bible believers: Non blievers also please read

by skyking 23 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • moshe

    Another good argument is the layers of sediment that form in Arctic lakes. Spring run off makes lines in the sediment just like tree rings. They can learn about climate and plant/animal life too from these rings. It is not unusual to drill a lake bottom core that has 10-12,000 years of unbroken sediment lines. Like I told a JW this past week. Wouldn't a global flood have washed away the sediment and they should all be only 4-5000 years old everywhere? , I asked him. He had never heard of these sediment layers before.

    I guess the writing department avoids facts that hurt their arguments- the old strawman technique at work. You build a flimsy counter case and then knock it down with your carefully selected facts. JW's never do any independent research, so the WT lies never get exposed.

    More info here: http://www.allthingsarctic.com/news/2003/0503/giant-lab.aspx

  • jimbo

    WOW thank you so very much I use this information.

  • IP_SEC
    Flood/Bristlecone Pine:

    Clearly the only possible answer is that god used his great magic to wipe out all evidence of a global flood. I find yalls lack of faith utterly horifiying. Anything can be explained if you have enough faith!!

  • startingover

    Great Topic

  • VM44

    Here is how the Awake! magazine has attempted to cast doubt upon the Bristlecone dating method. --VM44


    g72 4/8 pp. 11-15 Radiocarbon Dates Linked to Tree Rings ***


    Dates Linked to Tree Rings

    THE title of the Twelfth Nobel Symposium was "Radiocarbon Variations and Absolute Chronology." The title implies that radiocarbon dating is no longer regarded as absolute. The emphasis in the symposium was on the variations in radiocarbon dates and the attempts, only partly successful, to explain them. That which emerged as the absolute chronology was the one based on counting tree rings.

    Is that bad news? After all, the method of radiocarbon dating is a specialized technical field for a few highly trained experts, and the theory has been corrected here and adjusted there until it is difficult even for other scientists to understand. On the other hand, everyone knows—doesn’t he?—that a growing tree adds one ring every year around its trunk. And after a tree is cut down you can tell how old it was merely by counting the rings, can’t you? What could be simpler than that? Doubtless many persons will be relieved to learn that the radiocarbon clock, which always smacked a little of scientific magic, is now being kept on time by something as easy and understandable as counting tree rings.

    The calibration curve was included in the published report of the symposium (also published in Scientific American, October 1971). It shows, for each year back to about 5200 B.C.E., how many years must be added to or subtracted from the radiocarbon date to make it correspond with the tree-ring date.

    At first glance you might mistake it for a chart of stock-market prices. Its lack of any regularity, its random short-term wiggles, and its unpredictable long-term trends all enhance the resemblance. By using this correction curve, the radiocarbon dating laboratories have come to rely fully on the accuracy of tree-ring chronology, also called dendrochronology.

    So those who have put their faith in radiocarbon dates must now ask themselves whether that faith is strengthened or weakened by the new linkage to tree-ring dates. The answer, of course, depends on how certain the tree-ring chronology is. Is it a firm anchor for radiocarbon dates, to keep them from floating off into the unknown depths of antiquity?



    Not many trees live thousands of years. The magnificent giant sequoias that grow on the mountain slopes of California are famous for their extreme longevity. In recent years, however, it has been found that the bristlecone pine, an unpretentious, scrubby-looking tree that grows on high, rocky slopes in the southwestern United States sometimes lives even longer. One tree in Nevada is reported to be 4,900 years old.

    The usefulness of this long-lived tree was first pointed out in 1953, by Edmund Schulman, of the University of Arizona. In the White Mountains of eastern California he found a number of very old trees, some of them still living, others now dead stumps or logs. He collected cores cut from living trees as well as the remains of fallen trees in the grove. He examined them in his laboratory and used them to set up a tree-ring chronology. After his death in 1958, this work was resumed by Professor C. W. Ferguson in the same laboratory. Ferguson reported the present status of the work to the Nobel Symposium. He claims to have established a tree-ring chronology for the bristlecone pine all the way back to 5522 B.C.E. This is a span of almost 7,500 years, a truly impressive accomplishment. Can there be any reason to doubt that it is correct?


    by Some Researchers

    Well, we may note that Professor P. E. Damon, of the geology department at the same university as Ferguson, said: "The accuracy of tree-ring dating may be questioned by some researchers." 8 Then let us inquire into the procedure of constructing a tree-ring chronology to see why it may be questionable.

    The first thing we should ask about is the basic assumption of tree-ring counting, that one ring equals one year. It may surprise you to learn that this is not always true. Ferguson says on this point: "In some instances, 5 percent or more of the annual rings may be missing along a given radius that spans many centuries. The location of such ‘missing’ rings in a specimen is verified by cross-dating its ring pattern with the ring pattern of other trees in which the ‘missing’ ring is present." 9 Since the investigator adds these "missing rings" to his chronology, it is greater than the actual number of rings counted, by five or more years for each century.

    Even more interesting is Ferguson’s comment about the possibility that a tree may produce two or three rings in a single year: "In certain species of conifers, especially those at lower elevations or in southern latitudes, one season’s growth increment may be composed of two or more flushes of growth, each of which may strongly resemble an annual ring. Such multiple growth rings are extremely rare in bristlecone pine, however, and they are especially infrequent at the elevation and latitude of the sites being studied." 9

    So, under present climatic conditions, multiple rings are rare. From a uniformitarian point of view, such a statement is reassuring enough. But this viewpoint overlooks the abundant evidence that the climate was much more temperate before the Deluge of 2370 B.C.E. Also, the present-day location of the bristlecone pine groves might then have been at a much lower elevation. Both of these differences, in harmony with the opinion quoted, could have resulted in more multiple rings in trees then living. This would have been true, not only before the Flood, but even for some time afterward, while the earth’s crust was adjusting to new pressures. Who can say how often multiple rings formed under those conditions, or how many extra centuries are included in the chronology on that account?


    the Patterns Together

    The next point to note is that no single tree has 7,500 rings. Although it is reported that some standing trees are more than 3,000, and even 4,000 years old, the oldest living tree included in the chronology goes back only to 800 C.E. However, a dead tree was found with some 2,200 rings, and similarities in the pattern of thick and thin rings were found between the outer layers of the dead tree and the inner layers of the living tree. So the ages were considered to overlap from 800 to 1285 C.E., and the older tree was dated back to 957 B.C.E. This process was repeated with seventeen other remnants of fallen trees, ranging from 439 to 3,250 rings, to carry the ring count back a total of 7,484 years.

    Now you may ask, How certain is the matching of the overlapping patterns? Ferguson assures us that there is only one possible way to make each of the seventeen fits; as he says: "The master chronology for all specimens involved is unique in its year-by-year pattern; nowhere, throughout time, is precisely the same long-term sequence of wide and narrow rings repeated, because year-to-year variations in climate are never exactly the same." 9 Some persons might be willing to accept this opinion at face value; other researchers might, as Damon says, be among those who question it.

    Another question: If it were possible to fit a dead tree segment in more than one place, what considerations would guide the selection of the "correct" fit? This statement by Ferguson may give us a clue: "Occasionally, a sample from a specimen not yet dated is submitted for radiocarbon analysis. The date obtained indicates the general age of the sample, this gives a clue as to what portion of the master chronology should be scanned, and thus the tree-ring date may be identified more readily." 10 And, again: "Radiocarbon analysis of a single, small specimen, that contains a 400-year, high quality ring series indicates that the specimen is approximately 9000 years old. This holds great promise for the extension of the tree-ring chronology farther back in time." 11

    Thus it is evident that the carbon-14 dating sometimes serves as a guide in fitting together the pieces of the tree-ring puzzle. Do these admissions give reason to suspect that perhaps the tree-ring chronology is not as well-anchored as it seems to be, but that its proponents look for support to radiocarbon dating? Such a suspicion is not unfounded, for Professor Damon, after assuring us of his personal confidence in tree-ring dates, adds: "Nevertheless, it is reassuring to have some objective comparison, for example, with another method of dating. This is, in fact, provided by carbon-14 dating of historically dated samples." 8

    If tree-ring dates need to be bolstered by comparison with radiocarbon dates in the range where they are supported by historical dates, back only 4,000 years, what is to be said of the need 4,000 or 5,000 years before that?


    in Dating Wood

    The efforts to strengthen the mutual support of the two chronologies are plagued by another problem that occasioned considerable discussion among the experts. Even in radiocarbon analysis of those samples of bristlecone pine that now serve as the basis for all other radiocarbon dates, the possibility of sample alteration must be considered. It is known that inorganic substances, such as the limestone of shellfish and the carbonate in bones, are very susceptible to exchange with dissolved carbonates, either older or younger. For this reason they are almost useless for dating. Organic substances, such as cellulose, are regarded as unlikely to exchange. The live sap in a tree can be washed out of the dead wood, but if it has been circulating through the wood for centuries or millenniums, can we be sure that it has not partly replaced the decaying carbon 14?

    Unlike the sap, resin is difficult to remove. Ferguson has referred to "the highly resinous nature" of bristlecone pine wood. 12 The experts agreed that resin from younger wood moves into the older wood, where it can cause errors. "The diffusion inward of the resin certainly is a reasonable result." 13 Also, "This resin problem is important, particularly as the correction increases as one goes further into the tree." 13 In one experiment, the extracted resin was apparently 400 years younger than the wood.

    However, the experts disagreed as to how effective their chemical treatments are. One said that boiling the wood successively in acid and alkali "removes all of the resin." 14 Another said: "In my opinion, the resins in bristlecone pines cannot be removed completely by treatment with inorganic chemicals." 14 But when they use organic chemical solvents, they have to worry about whether the solvent has been completely removed afterward, because just a little modern carbon from it could apparently rejuvenate a sample of ancient wood. Of course, they work conscientiously to exclude all these errors, but are they completely successful? How sure can we be?

    Glacial Varve Counting

    A somewhat similar method of counting years into the past was discussed at the meeting, one based on glacial varves. Varves are alternate layers of sand and silt that are supposedly formed annually by a glacier as it melts. It is claimed that these provide a continuous record, one in Sweden going back as far as 12,000 years. This also was proposed as an absolute chronology to which radiocarbon dates might be tied. But how firm a basis is it, really?

    The Scandinavian varve chronology is pieced together from sections observed in different places throughout the length of Sweden. The record appears much less useful than a tree-ring chronology, for several reasons.

    For one thing, there is no link to the present day, corresponding to the bark ring. Estimates as to the date when the last varve was laid down vary widely. Also, the problem of identifying annual deposits contributes to the uncertainty. So one geologist dated the beginning of the series in Skåne at 12,950 B.C.E., another at only 10,550 B.C.E. Dr. E. Fromm, of the Geological Survey of Sweden, said: "In these cases the geological setting did not a priori limit the possible range of the datings, and the ‘teleconnections’ have obviously given quite unreliable results. Moreover, in these parts of Skåne doubts remain as to whether all varved deposits with sedimentation in small melt-water lakes are really annual varves." 15

    Note this admission that varves do not always correspond to annual deposits. In reality, they represent alternate conditions of rapid flow and slow flow, which might occur several times a year under some climatic conditions. "Dr. Hörnsten of the Geological Survey of Sweden pointed out that each varve had to be examined very carefully to avoid counting the varve from one year as two years. One single varve deposited during one year may have one or two pseudo-winter layers, due to variations in the discharge of melt-water (cf. double tree rings)." 16 Professor R. F. Flint, a well-known geologist of Yale University, asked for a clear statement of the criteria by which a varve is recognized, but so far as the record of the symposium shows, this was not forthcoming. 17

    These, then, are the "absolute chronologies" that were offered at the Nobel Symposium. From the articles in popular science magazines it would be easy to get the impression that radiocarbon dating is more firmly established than ever. But a careful reading of the backstage discussion at the Uppsala conference reveals that the uncertainties have multiplied. The radiocarbon theory no longer provides a sound basis for acceptance of its dates. The results of twenty years of study have greatly weakened most of its underlying assumptions.

    Now reliance is placed on the work of a single research group on a new method—tree-ring dating. What additional weaknesses in this technique might be revealed by twenty years of intensive study in different laboratories? In its present status, would you be willing to rely upon it, rather than on the Bible, for the vital decisions you must make in the near future?


    References are found on page 20.

  • VM44

    Scientific or Bible Chronology—Which Merits Your Faith?

    MOST persons who read the Bible, even casually, know that the human race is about six thousand years old. But they may not know what Bible texts point to that age. Perhaps you have seen in some Bibles the date 4004 B.C., in the marginal column at the first chapter of Genesis.

    Do you know whether that date is correct, or what reasoning it is based on? Then what if you see a news item about a new radiocarbon measurement showing that an archaeological site was occupied by primitive men eight or nine thousand years ago? Do you wonder how certain the Biblical date for creation really is? Or does the thought cross your mind that maybe the evolutionists are right after all?

    Conscientious students of the Bible know that its Author is an exact, painstaking timekeeper. They have followed the texts that give the exact number of years from one outstanding event to another. They know how the ancient chronology of mankind, kept only in the Bible, links up with reliable historical chronology, so that accurate dates can be put on the happenings recorded from Adam’s creation in 4026 B.C.E. onward.

    More than this, they know that the Bible, as a prophetic book, often linked time features with future events that came to pass exactly in the year foretold. Many now living have personally witnessed the fulfillment of the long-range prophecy of the "times of the nations," which extended into this twentieth century. They saw the outbreak of World War I in the predicted year 1914, ushering in the period of distress from which this world is destined never to recover. They now look to this decade for the completion of the six thousandth year of man’s existence. They are confidently hopeful that the seventh 1000-year day will bring the millennial reign of the Prince of Peace.

    Mature Christians are familiar, through their study and experience, with the accurate chronology of the Bible. To them the idea that God could have been mistaken in the time of man’s creation, or that he would have been so careless in providing and preserving the record that we today would not have this vital information, is incredible. When scientific chronologies that contradict the Bible chronology are introduced, they say with calm confidence that the scientists must be wrong, because ‘God cannot lie.’—Titus 1:2.

    Now, you may be one who does not share this confidence. You may wonder: Can we really put faith in the Bible account of man’s creation, when it seems so out of line with what scientists are learning? If the radiocarbon dates for early human settlements are correct, then the Bible dates must somehow be wrong, and how do we know where we are on the stream of time? Worse yet, if the Bible timetable is not reliable, maybe other things in the Bible are not trustworthy either. So can we really depend on it?

    If dating by the radiocarbon clock makes you hesitate to accept wholeheartedly the Bible promises of a new order, we invite you to consider carefully the information presented in the preceding two articles. Do not credulously accept the opinions of scientists as the ultimate truth in matters that so vitally affect your future. Remember how often scientific "facts" of one generation have been discarded by the scientists of the next generation. Look at the radiocarbon theory itself, how many of its basic assumptions have had to be modified to bring it in line with recent studies. Without the support (sometimes very questionable) of samples dated by other means, radiocarbon dating would now be a very uncertain business. Would you consider it wise to abandon your faith in the Bible only to replace it with faith in a scientific theory as unsettled as this?


    Dates a Rickety Structure

    The scientists who participated in the 1969 symposium at Uppsala came away with a feeling that progress was being made in understanding and surmounting their many problems. They took particular satisfaction in comparing radiocarbon dating and tree-ring counting. Even though the tree-ring chronology has pushed the radiocarbon dates rather badly out of shape, their proponents did come to an agreement. They were able to construct a mutually consistent correction curve, and to give plausible explanations for the major trends of deviations.

    However, it may well be that neither of these scientific chronologies are as independent as their supporters would like to believe. Perhaps they are depending on circular reasoning. Do the radiocarbon workers believe their dating is correct because the tree-ring laboratories verify it? And are the tree-ring researchers satisfied that their master chronology is correct because the radiocarbon dates fit on it? As long as they are within the channel marked by historical buoys, they both steer a reasonable course, but in the misty depths beyond, they sail away with no constraint but to keep one another in sight.

    Lest you think this is an unfair judgment, just took at some of the crosswinds and countercurrents that the radiocarbon pilot has to face:

    (1) The half-life of radiocarbon is not as certainly known as the scientists would like.

    (2) The cosmic rays, never steady, may have been much stronger or weaker in the past 10,000 years than is generally believed.

    (3) Solar flares change the level of radiocarbon—how much in the past nobody knows.

    (4) The earth’s magnetic field changes fitfully on a short time scale, and so radically over thousands of years that even the north and south poles are reversed. Scientists do not know why.

    (5) Radiocarbon scientists admit that an "Ice Age" could have affected the radiocarbon content of the air, by changing the volume and temperature of the ocean water, but they are not sure how great these changes were.

    (6) They ignore all the evidence, both scientific and Biblical, for a worldwide deluge forty-three centuries ago, so they do not recognize the drastic effects that such a cataclysmic event must have had on the samples they measure from that period.

    (7) Mixing of radiocarbon between the atmosphere and ocean can be affected by changes in climate or weather, but no one knows how much.

    (8) Mixing of radiocarbon between the surface layers and the deep ocean has an effect, very imperfectly understood.

    (9) The count of tree rings, used to calibrate the radiocarbon clock, is cast into doubt by the possibility of greatly different climatic conditions in past ages.

    (10) The radiocarbon content of old trees may be changed by diffusion of sap and resin into the heartwood.

    (11) Buried samples can either gain or lose radiocarbon through leaching by groundwater or by contamination.

    (12) It is never certain that the sample selected to date an event truly corresponds with it. It is only more or less probable, in the light of the archaeological evidence at the site.

    This is by no means a complete listing of the pitfalls that beset radiocarbon dating, but it should be enough to give a person pause before he throws out his Bible. Many of them would not seriously affect dates in the recent past, but their influence mounts up with time. So the method works reasonably well up to 2,500 or 3,500 years ago, but as we go farther and farther into the past the results become more and more doubtful. We could not expect that the radiocarbon clock would run the same before the Deluge as it does today. And it would be surprising if it could settle down completely within a thousand years after such a blow.

    Note particularly the last point on the above list. Even if everything else about radiocarbon dating were correct, if some flecks of charcoal dug up at the site of Jarmo in Iraq are found to be 6,700 years old, does that prove the Bible wrong? Does it not rest on the interpretation of the archaeologist who collected the sample? Is he infallible? Even if he assured you that his sample is unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably genuine, is his belief a sound basis for your faith?

    In weighing the evidence, do not overlook the most significant result of radiocarbon dating, namely: Of all the dates found for samples associated with man’s presence, the vast majority, perhaps more than 90 percent, have turned out to be less than 6,000 years ago.

    If the evolutionists’ ideas about man’s having been around for a million years were correct, surely we would expect to find a much larger number of artifacts dated back 10,000 or 20,000 years, within the range of carbon 14. Why do nearly all the specimens fall within just the past 6,000 years? We do not expect a scientific measurement to speak with the authority of a trusted eyewitness. It can only offer circumstantial evidence. But statistically speaking, the radiocarbon clock throws the weight of its testimony overwhelmingly on the side of the creation account, and against the evolution hypothesis, of man’s origin.


    Links in Tree-Ring Chronology

    On the face of it, the method of counting tree rings seems to be much more straightforward than carbon-14 measurements. However, we find on closer inspection that there are weaknesses in the chain of overlapping patterns. No two trees have exactly the same pattern of thick and thin rings. Missing rings have to be supplied to all the patterns, in order to fit them together. Are we to believe that the analyst’s judgment is always correct in deciding where to put the missing rings? If they were inserted in different places, is it possible that the overlap might fit better in another part of the record? We are told that sometimes a carbon-14 date already taken on the wood helps put it in the right place. Without being prejudiced by this information, or perhaps being prejudiced toward trying to fit the total record into a shorter time, is it possible that another analyst would accomplish an equally good match? These are crucial questions, if we are to decide whether to put more faith in a count of tree rings than in the count of years recorded by the writers of the Bible.

    As with all scientific conclusions, there are limits to the reliability of tree-ring dating. It appears that some trees can count the years, allowing for some stumbling over missed rings and double rings, and they hold their count long after they have died. But dead trees do not, of themselves, tell when they started or when they stopped counting. The man who pieces the patterns together has to decide that, and his opinions and prejudices cannot be excluded from this subjective decision. Would you be willing to risk your life for the proposition that he had made no error?

    Would you be willing to take the word of any scientist, however prestigious, that radiocarbon dating with the support of tree-ring counts have now made it certain that there was no flood in Noah’s time such as the Bible describes? Jesus Christ said there was such a flood. (Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26, 27) God himself has had this account recorded in his inspired Word. Whose authority would you rather accept in making a life-or-death decision?


    of Bible Chronology

    Compare these scientific systems of chronology with that in the Bible: "Shem was a hundred years old when he became father to Arpachshad two years after the deluge. . . . And Arpachshad lived thirty-five years. Then he became father to Shelah. . . . And Shelah lived thirty years. Then he became father to Eber." (Gen. 11:10-26) This is a chronology kept by men who could count, without missing any years or counting any twice, and who could keep written records of their count. And we too can count, and we can add up the years in their record from the Flood until now, 4,340 of them. Is this not more credible than counting and correlating rings in trees long dead, or counting layers of sand, or trying to balance all the factors of uncertainty in a radioactive clock?

    Bible chronology has a unique superiority over scientific chronologies. It goes into the future. The radiocarbon clock runs down, ever slower and slower, but without any end point. The tree-ring chronology stops with last year’s growth. But the Bible chronology directs our attention to a definite point, still future—the end of six 1,000-year days of man’s history, as counted by his Creator.

    The Bible’s past record of forecasting future dates is impressive. Biblical chronology was published by Jehovah’s Christian witnesses’ foretelling 1914 as the date for the tremendous change in earth’s affairs that then took place. Said the New York World on August 30, 1914: "The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For a quarter of a century past, through preachers and through press, the ‘International Bible Students’ . . . have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the . . . evangelists."

    That year 1914 was a date so plainly marked that modern historians cannot overlook it. And it is no mere coincidence that this decade is marked by many forward-looking scientists as the one that will see the world facing chaos and final disaster from a dozen inexorable forces that already are converging fatally upon it. What success of the radiocarbon clock can compare with this record of the Bible in pinpointing dates?

    Dr. Säve-Söderbergh, of the Institute of Egyptology at the University of Uppsala, recounted this anecdote at the symposium:

    "Carbon-14 dating was being discussed at a symposium on the prehistory of the Nile Valley. A famous American colleague, Professor Brew, briefly summarized a common attitude among archaeologists toward it, as follows:

    "‘If a carbon-14 date supports our theories, we put it in the main text. If it does not entirely contradict them, we put it in a footnote. And if it is completely "out of date", we just drop it.’

    "Few archaeologists who have concerned themselves with absolute chronology are innocent of having sometimes applied this method, and many are still hesitant to accept carbon-14 dates without reservation." 18

    Worldly scientists are still reluctant to accept the results of radiocarbon dating, when no more harm would be done than to upset their cherished theories. Then should not Christians with far stronger reason be reluctant to accept as truth a scientific chronology that is being revised constantly in its basic theory, leaning for support first on one crutch and then another? Why should they accept it when its results flatly contradict a Biblical chronology that has been maintained by scrupulous chroniclers and protected by divine supervision, that has stood the tests of both historical and prophetic accuracy, for thousands of years? Surely it is the Bible, which shows we are living in the "last days" of this wicked system and that God’s righteous new order is near—it is the chronology found in this book that merits our faith.


    1. Radiocarbon Dating, by W. F. Libby, 1952, p. 72.

    2. Nobel Symposium 12: Radiocarbon Variations and Absolute Chronology, 1970, p. 25.

    3. E. K. Ralph and H. N. Michael, Archaeometry, Vol. 10, 1967, p. 7.

    4. Radiocarbon Dating, p. 41.

    5. Nobel Symposium 12, p. 522.

    6. Radiocarbon Dating, p. 29.

    7. Ibid., p. 32.

    8. Nobel Symposium 12, p. 576.

    9. C. W. Ferguson, Science, Vol. 159, Feb. 23, 1968, p. 840.

    10. Ibid., p. 845.

    11. Ibid., p. 842.

    12. Ibid., p. 839.

    13. Nobel Symposium 12, p. 272.

    14. Ibid., p. 273.

    15. Ibid., p. 167.

    16. Ibid., p. 216.

    17. Ibid., p. 219.

    18. Ibid., p. 35.


    on page 17]

    C-14 DATES


    The structure of carbon-14 dates was found to be so rickety farther back in time that it needed emergency support—tree-ring counting. Will you put faith in such a structure?

  • VM44

    *** g86 9/22 pp. 21-26 The Radiocarbon Clock ***


    Radiocarbon Clock

    It Dates Once-Living Remains. Or Does It?

    ALL the foregoing clocks run so slowly that they are of little or no use in studying archaeological problems. Something much faster is needed to match the time scale of human history. This need has been met by the radiocarbon clock.

    Carbon 14, a radioactive isotope of ordinary carbon 12, was first found in atom-smashing experiments in a cyclotron. Then it was found also in the earth’s atmosphere. It emits weak beta rays, which can be counted by a suitable instrument. Carbon 14 has a half-life of only 5,700 years, which is suitable for dating things associated with man’s early history.

    The other radioactive elements we have discussed have lives that are long compared to the earth’s age, so they have existed since earth’s creation down to the present day. But radiocarbon has such a short life, relative to the earth’s age, that it can still be here only if it has been continually produced in some way. That way is the bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays, which convert nitrogen atoms into radioactive carbon.

    This carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis and is converted into all kinds of organic compounds in living cells. Animals and, yes, we humans, eat the plant tissues, so everything that lives comes to contain radiocarbon in the same proportion as it is found in the air. As long as anything lives, the radiocarbon in it, which decays, is replenished by fresh intake. But when a tree or an animal dies, the supply of fresh radiocarbon is cut off, and the radiocarbon level in it begins to drop. If a piece of wood charcoal or an animal bone is preserved for 5,700 years, it will contain only half as much radiocarbon as it had when alive. So, in principle, if we measure the proportion of carbon 14 remaining in something that once was alive, we can tell how long it has been dead.

    The radiocarbon method can be applied to a wide variety of things of organic origin. Many thousands of samples have been dated by it. Their fascinating diversity is suggested by just a few examples:

    Wood from the funerary ship found in the tomb of Pharaoh Seostris III was dated at 1670 B.C.E.

    Heartwood from a giant redwood in California, which had 2,905 annual rings when it was cut down in 1874, was dated at 760 B.C.E.

    Linen wrappings from the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated to the first or second century B.C.E. by the style of handwriting, were measured by the radiocarbon content to be 1,900 years old.

    A piece of wood found on Mt. Ararat, and considered by some to be possibly from Noah’s ark, proved to date only from 700 C.E.—old wood, indeed, but not nearly old enough to predate the Flood.

    Woven rope sandals dug out of volcanic pumice in an Oregon cave showed an age of 9,000 years.

    Flesh from a baby mammoth, frozen in Siberian muck for thousands of years, was found to be 40,000 years old.

    How reliable are these dates?


    in the Radiocarbon Clock

    The radiocarbon clock looked very simple and straightforward when it was first demonstrated, but it is now known to be prone to many kinds of error. After some 20 years’ use of the method, a conference on radiocarbon chronology and other related methods of dating was held in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1969. The discussions there between chemists who practice the method and archaeologists and geologists who use the results brought to light a dozen flaws that might invalidate the dates. In the 17 years since then, little has been accomplished to remedy these shortcomings.

    One nagging problem has always been to ensure that the sample tested has not been contaminated, either with modern (live) carbon or with ancient (dead) carbon. A bit of wood, for example, from the heart of an old tree might contain live sap. Or if that has been extracted with an organic solvent (made from dead petroleum), a trace of the solvent might be left in the portion analyzed. Old buried charcoal might be penetrated by rootlets from living plants. Or it might be contaminated with much older bitumen, difficult to remove. Live shellfish have been found with carbonate from minerals long buried or from seawater upwelling from the deep ocean where it had been for thousands of years. Such things can make a specimen appear either older or younger than it really is.

    The most serious fault in radiocarbon-dating theory is in the assumption that the level of carbon 14 in the atmosphere has always been the same as it is now. That level depends, in the first instance, on the rate at which it is produced by cosmic rays. Cosmic rays vary greatly in intensity at times, being largely affected by changes in the earth’s magnetic field. Magnetic storms on the sun sometimes increase the cosmic rays a thousandfold for a few hours. The earth’s magnetic field has been both stronger and weaker in past millenniums. And since the explosion of nuclear bombs, the worldwide level of carbon 14 has increased substantially.

    On the other hand, the proportion is affected by the quantity of stable carbon in the air. Great volcanic eruptions add measurably to the stable carbon-dioxide reservoir, thus diluting the radiocarbon. In the past century, man’s burning of fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, at an unprecedented rate has permanently increased the quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide. (More details on these and other uncertainties in the carbon-14 clock were given in the April 8, 1972, issue of Awake!)


    by the Growth Rings of Trees

    Faced with all these fundamental weaknesses, the radiocarbon people have turned to standardizing their dates with the help of wood samples dated by counting tree rings, notably those of bristlecone pines, which live hundreds and even thousands of years in the southwestern United States. This field of study is called dendrochronology.

    So the radiocarbon clock is no longer regarded as yielding an absolute chronology but one which measures only relative dates. To get the true date, the radiocarbon date has to be corrected by the tree-ring chronology. Accordingly, the result of a measurement of radiocarbon is referred to as a "radiocarbon date." By referring this to a calibration curve based on tree rings, the absolute date is inferred.

    This is sound for as far back as the bristlecone ring count is reliable. The problem now comes up that the oldest living tree whose age is known goes back only to 800 C.E. In order to extend the scale, scientists try to match overlapping patterns of thin and thick rings in pieces of dead wood found lying nearby. By patching together 17 remnants of fallen trees, they claim to go back over 7,000 years.

    But the tree-ring standard does not stand alone either. Sometimes they are not sure just where to put one of the dead pieces, so what do they do? They ask for a radiocarbon measurement on it and use that as a guide in fitting it in. It reminds one of two lame men with only one crutch between them, who take turns using it, one leaning for a while on his partner, then helping to hold him up.

    One must wonder at the miraculous preservation of loose bits of wood lying so long in the open. It would seem they might have been washed away by heavy rainfall or picked up by passersby for firewood or some other use. What has prevented rot or insect attack? It is credible that a living tree might withstand the ravages of time and weather, an occasional one surviving for a thousand years or more. But dead wood? For six thousand years? It strains credibility. Yet this is what the older radiocarbon dates are based on.

    Nevertheless, the radiocarbon experts and the dendrochronologists have managed to put aside such doubts and smooth over the gaps and inconsistencies, and both feel satisfied with their compromise. But how about their customers, the archaeologists? They are not always happy with the dates they get back on the samples they send in. One expressed himself this way at the Uppsala conference:

    "If a carbon-14 date supports our theories, we put it in the main text. If it does not entirely contradict them, we put it in a footnote. And if it is completely ‘out of date,’ we just drop it."

    Some of them still feel that way. One wrote recently concerning a radiocarbon date that was supposed to mark the earliest domestication of animals:

    "Archeologists [are coming] to have second thoughts about the immediate usefulness of radiocarbon age determinations simply because they come out of ‘scientific’ laboratories. The more that confusion mounts in regard to which method, which laboratory, which half-life value, and which calibration is most reliable, the less we archeologists will feel slavishly bound to accept any ‘date’ offered to us without question."

    The radiochemist who had supplied the date retorted: "We prefer to deal with facts based on sound measurements—not with fashionable nor emotional archeology."

    If scientists disagree so sharply about the validity of these dates reaching back into man’s antiquity, is it not understandable that laymen might be skeptical about news reports based on scientific "authority," such as those quoted at the head of this series of articles?


    Counting of Carbon 14

    A recent development in radiocarbon dating is a method for counting not just the beta rays from the atoms that decay but all the carbon-14 atoms in a small sample. This is particularly useful in dating very old specimens in which only a tiny fraction of the carbon 14 is left. Out of a million carbon-14 atoms, only one, on the average, will decay every three days. This makes it quite tedious, when measuring old samples, to accumulate enough counts to distinguish the radioactivity from the cosmic-ray background.

    But if we can count all the carbon-14 atoms now, without waiting for them to decay, we can gain a millionfold in sensitivity. This is accomplished by bending a beam of positively charged carbon atoms in a magnetic field to separate the carbon 14 from the carbon 12. The lighter carbon 12 is forced into a tighter circle, and the heavier carbon 14 is admitted through a slit into a counter.

    This method, although more complicated and more expensive than the beta-ray-counting method, has the advantage that the amount of material needed for a test is a thousand times less. It opens up the possibility of dating rare ancient manuscripts and other artifacts from which a sample of several grams that would be destroyed in testing just cannot be had. Now such articles can be dated with just milligrams of sample.

    One suggested application of this would be to date the Shroud of Turin, which some believe Jesus’ body was wrapped in for burial. If radiocarbon dating was to show that the cloth is not that old, it would confirm the suspicions of doubters that the shroud is a hoax. Until now, the archbishop of Turin has refused to donate a sample for dating because it would take too large a piece. But with the new method, one square centimeter would be enough to determine whether the material dates from the time of Christ or only from the Middle Ages.

    In any event, attempts to extend the time range have little significance as long as the greater problems remain unsolved. The older the sample is, the more difficult it is to ensure the complete absence of slight traces of younger carbon. And the farther we try to go beyond the few thousand years for which we have a reliable calibration, the less we know about the atmospheric level of carbon 14 in those ancient times.

    Several other methods have been studied for dating events in the past. Some of these are related indirectly to radioactivity, such as the measurement of fission tracks and radioactive halos. Some involve other processes, such as the deposition of varves (layers of sediment) by streams flowing from a glacier and the hydration of obsidian artifacts.



    The racemization of amino acids is another dating method used. But what does "racemization" mean?

    Amino acids belong to the group of carbon compounds that have four different groups of atoms attached to a central carbon atom. The tetrahedral arrangement of the groups makes the molecule asymmetrical as a whole. Such molecules exist in two forms. Although chemically identical, one is physically the mirror image of the other. A simple illustration of this is a pair of gloves. They have the same size and shape, but one fits only your right hand, the other only your left.

    A solution of one form of such a compound twists a beam of polarized light to the left; the other kind rotates it to the right. When a chemist synthesizes an amino acid from simpler compounds, he gets equal amounts of both forms. Each form cancels out the effect of the other on polarized light. This is called a racemic mixture, when both left-handed and right-handed amino acids are equally present in the mixture.

    When amino-acid compounds are formed in living plants or animals, they come in only one form, usually the left-handed, or l- (for levo-) form. If such a compound is heated, the thermal agitation of the molecules turns some of them inside out, changing the left-handed form to the right-handed (the dextro form). This change is called racemization. Continued long enough, it produces equal amounts of the l- and d-forms. It is of special interest because it relates to living things, as does radiocarbon dating.

    At lower temperatures, racemization goes at a slower pace. How much slower depends on the energy it takes to invert the molecule. It follows a well-known chemical law, known as the Arrhenius equation. If the amino acid is cooled more and more, the reaction goes slower and slower until, at ordinary temperatures, we cannot see it changing at all. But we can still use the equation to calculate how fast it is changing. It turns out that it would take tens of thousands of years for a typical amino acid to approach the racemized state, when both left-handed and right-handed forms of the amino acids are present in equal quantities.

    The idea for dating by this method is this: If a bone, for example, is buried and left undisturbed, the aspartic acid (a crystallized amino acid) in the bone is slowly racemized. We dig up the bone a long time later, extract and purify the remaining aspartic acid, and compare its degree of polarization with that of pure l-aspartic acid. Thus we can estimate how long ago the bone was part of a living creature.

    The decay curve is similar to that of a radioactive element. Each amino acid has its own characteristic rate of decay, just as uranium decays slower than potassium. However, note this important difference: Radioactive rates are unaffected by temperature, whereas racemization, being a chemical reaction, is markedly dependent on temperature.

    Some of the most highly publicized applications of the racemization method have been to human skeletal remains found along the coast of California. One, called the Del Mar man, was dated by this method at 48,000 years. Another, the skeleton of a female found in an excavation near Sunnyvale, appeared to be even older, a startling 70,000 years! These ages created quite a stir not only in the public press but especially among paleontologists, because no one had believed that man was in North America that long ago. Speculation arose that man could have wandered across the Bering Strait from Asia as much as a hundred thousand years ago. But how certain were the dates turned out by this novel method?

    To answer this, tests were made by a radioactive method involving intermediate decay products between uranium and lead that have half-lives suitable for this range. This gave ages of 11,000 years for the Del Mar skeleton and only 8,000 or 9,000 for the Sunnyvale. Something was wrong.

    The big uncertainty in racemization ages is the unknown thermal history of the specimen. As mentioned above, the rate of racemization is extremely sensitive to temperature. If the temperature goes up by 25 degrees Fahrenheit (14° C), the reaction goes ten times as fast. How could anyone know what temperatures the bones could have been exposed to so many years in the past? How many summers might they have lain bare under a hot California sun? Or might they even have been in a campfire or a forest fire? Besides the temperature, other factors have been found to affect the rate greatly, such as the pH (degree of acidity). One report says: "Amino acids in sediments show an initial rate of racemization almost an order of magnitude (tenfold) faster than the rate observed for free amino acids at a comparable pH and temperature."

    Even that is not the end of the story. One of the Sunnyvale bones was tested for radiocarbon, both by the counting of beta particles from decaying atoms and by the newer atom-counting method. These gave roughly concordant values. The average was only 4,400 years!

    What can we believe? Obviously some of the answers are terribly wrong. Should we put more confidence in the radiocarbon date, since there is longer experience in using it? But even with it, different samples from the same bone varied from 3,600 to 4,800 years. Perhaps we should just admit, in the words of the scientist quoted previously, "Maybe all of them are wrong."

    [Blurb on page 23]

    The radiocarbon clock is now known to be prone to many kinds of error

    [Box on page 22]

    Just this year Science News, under the title "New Dates for ‘Early’ Tools," reported:

    "Four bone artifacts thought to provide evidence for human occupation of North America approximately 30,000 years ago are, at most, only about 3,000 years old, report archaeologist D. Earl Nelson of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and his colleagues in the May 9 SCIENCE. . . .

    "The difference in age estimates between the two types of carbon samples from the same bone is, to say the least, significant. For example, a ‘flesher’ used to remove flesh from animal skins was first given a radiocarbon age of 27,000 years old. That age has now been revised to about 1,350 years old."—May 10, 1986.

    [Diagram on page 24]

    (For fully formatted text, see publication)

    The amount of carbon 14 (or racemized aspartic acid) varies with external conditions

    Cosmic-Ray Variation

    Carbon 14

    Temperature Changes

    Aspartic Acid

    [Diagram on page 26]

    (For fully formatted text, see publication)

    L-Aspartic Acid


    D-Aspartic Acid

    HOOC C H 2 N H HOOCH 2 C

  • VM44

    I attempted to look up the subject of Ice Core sampling in the Watchtower CD-ROM, however, the Watchtower has not written anything concerning that topic.....Why not? --VM44

  • VM44

    Note what one of the above Awake! articles wrote in a concluding paragraph.

    *** g72 4/8 p. 15 Radiocarbon Dates Linked to Tree Rings ***

    Now reliance is placed on the work of a single research group on a new method?tree-ring dating. What additional weaknesses in this technique might be revealed by twenty years of intensive study in different laboratories?

    OK, More than 20 years have gone by since that article was published. Have any additional weaknesses in the tree-ring dating method been found? On rather has the method been shown to be reliable?


  • VM44

    Does anyone know who wrote these Awake! articles from 1972, and the one from 1986?

    Was there a resident "expert" on radocarbon and other methods of dating at Bethel in the 1970's and '80's?


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