These long time periods are computed by measuring the ratio of daughter to parent substance in a rock and inferring an age based on this ratio.This age is computed under the assumption that the parent substance (say, uranium) gradually decays to the daughter substance (say, lead), so the higher the ratio of lead to uranium, the older the rock must be.
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Scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Laboratory of Columbia University at Palisades, N.
Y., reported today in the British journal Nature that some estimates of age based on carbon analyses were wrong by as much as 3,500 years.
They arrived at this conclusion by comparing age estimates obtained using two different methods - analysis of radioactive carbon in a sample and determination of the ratio of uranium to thorium in the sample.
In some cases, the latter ratio appears to be a much more accurate gauge of age than the customary method of carbon dating, the scientists said.