Mumbai: Carbon-dating, a technique which allows archaeologists and geologists to determine precisely how old an object or sample like bone is, will become easier with the first facility being set up in Mumbai University in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
The facility, known as Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, will be useful in dating miniscule samples from objects of archaeological significance.
“Currently, large samples are sent abroad and a lot of foreign exchange is spent on it. To carbon-date each sample, the current cost is approximately 600 euros. Further, we estimated how many samples India needs to carbon-date. We came to the conclusion that even if we check 137 samples everyday, our facility will have to function 24 hours for two years at a stretch,” said Dushyant C Kothari, in-charge director of Mumbai University’s Centre for Nanosciences and Nanotechnology, where the facility is being established.
Scientists conventionally use radioactivity to determine the age of objects, most notably carbon-14 dating. It is used in dating things such as bone, cloth, wood and plant fibres. The Accelerator Mass Spectrometry technique, however, enables one to use small amount of samples and determine the date precisely within one hour, which radioactive-dating technique would have taken few years.
The Rs 10-crore national facility will come up at Mumbai University’s Kalina campus.
According to Kothari, who is the principle investigator of the project, the facility being set up in Mumbai will enable researchers to determine the existence of a samples for up to 50,000 years BC.
“In order to know about our pre-historic and historic times, we need to establish the exact date of events. If we need to know how many centuries ago something was living, we need high-precision instruments, which currently do not exist in the country. Hence, this facility is crucial and will enable us to accurately determine the date of various organic materials like skull and bones,” said co-investigator in the project Mayank Vahia, from the department of astronomy and astrophysics, TIFR.
Besides its importance from the archaeological and astronomy-archaeological points of view, the facility is critical for geologists and can also be used for pharmaceutical applications in drug development.
“We can use the facility to check when sediments of lakes were created and subsequently gauge the past geological events on the earth,” said Kothari.