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ATEAM of North East scientists have uncovered a way to make radiocarbon dating more accurate by hundreds of years.
The research by experts from Newcastle University on a "time capsule" Japanese lake could help archaeologists and climate scientists refine age estimates.
The work at Lake Suigetsu could be used to by archaeologists, for example, to further specify the timing of the extinction of neanderthals or the spread of modern humans into Europe.
Additionally, climate scientists may better understand the chains of events that led to the advance and retreat of the ice sheets during the last glacial period.
"In short, this is a realisation of a 20-year-long Japanese dream," said Prof Takeshi Nakagawa, of Newcastle University's school of geography, politics and sociology, and leader of the Lake Suigetsu project.
In Lake Suigetsu, which is near the coast of the Sea of Japan, a layer of tiny algae called diatoms blankets the floor each year followed by a layer of darker sediments.
The lake bottom is very still and anoxic, so these layers have remained undisturbed over tens of thousands of years. A series of cores drilled through these layers now provides an exquisitely preserved record of the past 52,800 years.
"Because of the unique combination of a complete radiocarbon record and terrestrial paleoclimate data, Suigetsu can be a benchmark against which other records can be compared," said Prof Nakagawa. "This radiocarbon dataset will also allow very high precision direct correlation between Suigetsu and other terrestrial climate record. …