The history of radiocarbon dating

Posted by / 20-Jul-2018 23:20

A Triceratops brow horn discovered in Dawson County, Montana, has been controversially dated to around 33,500 years, challenging the view that dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago.The finding radically suggests that early humans may have once walked the earth with the fearsome reptiles thousands of years ago.It was probably at Iona that the world’s most famous early illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, was produced – and it was from here that the epicentre of early northern English Christianity, the monastery of Lindisfarne was founded.The story of the discovery of St Columba’s hut is a long but significant one.In 1957, when Thomas found the hut’s burned wood remains, radiocarbon dating had only just been developed the previous year and was in its infancy and very expensive.The crucial charcoal was therefore not dated and remained for the next 55 years in a series of matchboxes, first in a succession of storerooms and finally in his garage – but in 2012, he donated them to Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland).Additional new evidence shows that, at some stage after his death, a monument (a large cross) was erected on the site of the hut, presumably to commemorate the life and work of the monastery’s famous first abbot.What’s more, new radiocarbon investigations by the two Glasgow archaeologists are revealing that, potentially at around the time that monument was built, the Iona monks created what may well be Britain’s very earliest pilgrims road, pre-dating the famous pilgrims route to Thomas Becket’s tomb in Canterbury (made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) by up to four centuries.

St Columba was Abbot of Iona from the date of the monastery’s foundation (563 AD) till his death (597 AD).It’s thought that Iona’s possible version of that Jerusalem prototype was eventually up to 600 metres long and, by the 9 century, may have started at the island’s Bay of the Martyrs (potentially, the site of a terrible massacre of Iona’s monks, carried out by the Vikings in 806) and ended at the tomb of St Columba (where the current abbey is located).Along the route, pilgrims would have passed through a graveyard of monks (possibly including those monks who were martyred by the Vikings) – and by the side of a chapel dedicated to a particular colleague of St Columba who, according to legend, was buried alive by his more normally saintly abbot!For centuries, local Gaelic folk tradition seems to have held that a natural grass-covered rock outcrop (known as the Tòrr an Aba) was specifically associated with an important abbot.What’s more that rocky knoll fitted a late 7th century account describing the location of St Columba’s hut.

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Then in the 1950s, a British archaeologist called Charles Thomas excavated the outcrop and found the burned remains of a wattle and daub hut under a layer of earth and pebbles.