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Often times, local people are employed to help with the basic chores around a dig, as in this Egyptian dig site.
Before starting a dig the first step is to map a site, dividing it into small squares.
Carbon exists in the atmosphere in two forms — ordinary carbon, C-12; and carbon-14.
This is radioactive and decays with a half-life of 5730 years (it takes 5730 years for half of the C-14 in a sample to become C-12).
Report broken link NOVA: Sunken Treasures NOVA chronicles the underwater exploration of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Historians believe the lighthouse collapsed in the 1300s after enduring many centuries of earthquakes.
While digging in the royal cemetery he noticed a small hole just below where a small gold cap and some gold nails had been found. When the soil was cleared away, the shaft of a lyre — preserved as a plaster cast — emerged.
Woolley was able to reconstruct the entire instrument, even though its original wood had long since vanished. Before artifacts can be interpreted, they have to be dug up!
Ground penetrating radar, for example, pumps radio waves into the earth then measures the patterns reflected back.
Plants and animals contain carbon in the same mixture as the atmosphere. By measuring how much — or, rather, how little — C-14 remains, researchers can calculate how much time has elapsed since death occurred. An object may be contaminated by carbon from another source.
Or, it may not "belong" at the level where the carbon-containing material was found. They know where not to dig — where nothing interesting exists. Excavation is expensive, and there is nothing an archaeologist likes less than staring at an empty hole.
In the late 1940s, the physicist Willard Libby invented C-14 (radiocarbon) dating. For the first time organic material — charcoal, wood, shell and bone, even clothing — from 500 to 50,000 years old could be reliably dated.
Through radiocarbon dating, archaeologists built a world-wide chronology of human activity.