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No. 99: May-Jun 1995

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Ancient Modern Life And Carbon Dating

Pursuant to the possible effect of the earth's recent envelopment by a molecular cloud on the accuracy of carbon dating (SF#98), we now look at the potential distortion caused by the ingestion of primordial carbon (carbon-13) by plants and animals. Primordial carbon may come from limestone or natural gas welling up from the earth's interior. Modern life forms that metabolize primordial rather than atmospheric carbon dioxide, with its cosmic-ray produced carbon-14, will appear extremely old when carbon-dated.

For example, M. Grachev et al carbon-dated flatworms and a sponge collected from a bacterial mat near a thermal vent 420-meters deep in Lake Baikal. The apparent ages of these living organisms ranged from 6860 to 10,200 years.

(Grachev, M., et al; "Extant Fauna of Ancient Carbon," Nature, 374:123, 1995)

Even animals eating these apparently ancient life forms may take up their carbon-13 and, in effect, be drained of carbon-14. They would appear to age rapidly. Such false aging has actually been induced in the laboratory with mice fed on brewer's yeast grown in natural gas. These mice, living in cages at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, were carbon-dated as being 13,000 years old, and were expected to attain a ripe old age of 35,000 in a few months. (All this was part of a cancer-research project.)

Of course, most carbon-dating in archeology is not endangered by the primordial-carbon problem. But, as K. Turteltaub, "father" of the Lazarus mice, commented:

"We've joked about sprinkling them [the mice] around archeological sites just to confuse everyone."

(Weisman, Jonathan; "Of Lazarus Mice and Carbon-14," Tri-Valley Herald, July 12, 1993. Cr. R. Berg)

From Science Frontiers #99, MAY-JUN 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987