Radioactive dating artifacts

Carbon dating, which measures the age of organic materials based on the amount of radioactive carbon 14 remaining in a specimen, usually gives a range of likely dates at the time of death. In the case of the four individuals excavated under Dublin’s South Great George’s Street, Simpson found that two of them had a 95 percent probability of having died between 670 and 880, with a 68 percent probability of between 690 and 790.

Another entry records the arrival of a flotilla of 60 Viking ships in 837 at the mouth of the Boyne River, 30 miles north of Dublin.

All have been dated to the ninth or tenth centuries on the basis of artifacts that accompanied them, and the South Great George’s Street burials seemed to be four more examples.

Yet when excavation leader Linzi Simpson of Dublin’s Trinity College sent the remains for carbon dating to determine their age, the results were “quite surprising,” she says.

And, further, that those trading contacts may have occurred generations before the violent raids described in contemporary texts, works written by monks in isolated monasteries—often the only places where literate people lived—which were especially targeted by Viking raiders for their food and treasures.

Scholars are continuing to examine these texts, but are also considering the limitations of using them to understand the historical record.

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