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Paleontologists still commonly use biostratigraphy to date fossils, often in combination with paleomagnetism and tephrochronology.
Says Shea: “Beyond 40,000 years old, the sample is so small, and the contamination risk so great, that the margin of error is thousands of years.
When it comes to determining the age of stuff scientists dig out of the ground, whether fossil or artifact, “there are good dates and bad dates and ugly dates,” says paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University.
The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results.
Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die.
Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in their remains decreases.
Thermoluminescence: Silicate rocks, like quartz, are particularly good at trapping electrons.