Then, in the twentieth century, carbon dating found the bones to be about 22,000 years old — even though much of Britain was encased in ice and seemingly uninhabitable for part of that time.When Higham eventually got the bones, his team came up with a more likely scenario: they were closer to 33,000 years old and one of the earliest examples of ceremonial burial in Western Europe.Tom found himself drawn to the quantitative side of archaeology to help fill in those details.His father had counselled that if he wanted a future in the field, Tom ought to join the push to make it a more rigorous science, emphasizing testable theory, experiment and statistics.It might even explain why humans survived and Neanderthals did not.“I admire him,” says Paul Mellars, an archaeologist from the University of Cambridge, UK, and an expert on this period in Europe, for “the sheer doggedness and sense of vision” he has for improving radiocarbon dating of the Palaeolithic.Libby earned the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work.The clock gets less accurate as the samples age, however; cruelly, it begins to fail at one of the most interesting times of human history in Europe.
By developing techniques that strip ancient samples of impurities, he and his team have established more accurate ages for the remains from dozens of archaeological sites.
So, at his father's urging, Tom applied for and completed a Ph D at the University of Waikato's Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory in Hamilton, then did a postdoc there.
And when a faculty position became available at a better-funded lab at the University of Oxford in 2000, he moved back to his birth country.
Within 30,000 years, 98% of the already vanishingly small quantities of carbon-14 in bone is gone.
And carbon-14 molecules from surrounding soil start to seep into the fossils.