This is what I've read in an article (won't share it here out of fear of attracting several downvotes just for posting a link of that kind) that raises some questions:

Carbon dating is carried out on organic matter found around, inside or near the stone object. Based on that organic material's dating, the date around which the item was carved, is estimated.

The problem with this approach: Suppose a museum in the present day has several stone monuments from varying dates. And they're cleaned and maintained quite well by the curator; there is no organic material on them. One day the whole museum is suddenly buried under enormous amounts of inorganic material, with the curator trapped in and crushed to death. 2000 years later a team of archaeologists uncover this place. The only organic material they find is the remains of the curator. They date it, and from that, peg all the stone sculptures found in the museum at 2000 years old. But the items were actually much older than even the curator. So isn't that a wrong dating?

Inspecting the handiwork on the sculpture itself is subjective to assumptions about possession of skills at different time periods. That's not linear. Take one present day example : Utensils from 1000 years ago in a museum can have exquisite artwork, embellishment, detailing. Imagine someone comparing it with a utensil being ordinarily used today having no artwork, with both items being made of the same material. They would assume that today's utensil is older than the one from 1000 years ago, on the basis of handiwork.

So is the part about the carbon dating of nearby organic material true? Or does stone have its own ways of finding age of carving that is independent of nearby organic material?

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    Your assessments are a bit naïve. Firstly, no one would assume that a simplistic design must necessarily predate an elaborate one. In practice, we would study at the design itself, and try to ascertain whether it resembles trends that are known to be fashionable in a particular period. Secondly, carbon dating of nearby objects is a tool, not to be taken as absolute gospel. It would be incredibly careless to date stylistically disparate monuments in a museum by some organic matter that happens to be nearby.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 19, 2015 at 19:59
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    I merely shared a hypothetical situation to illustrate the problem which you further confirmed. And don't underestimate the naivette of high prestige. Here's an alternative situation, perhaps it'll pass your test: a thief stole one of the museum's artefacts, took it to another continent far away, and handled it roughly enough to coat it with present-day organic material, then buried it. It gets rediscovered many centuries later, and dating pegs it to the thief's time period. The artefact is one-of-a-kind, and cannot be reliably linked with any other known artistry by the team studying it.
    – Nikhil VJ
    Jun 10, 2017 at 2:09
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it asks about an imaginary hypothetical scenario.
    – Brian Z
    Jun 10, 2017 at 15:19
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    Sorry, but I think you are being unfair / too harsh. The question itself isn't hypothetical at all. The examples situations (which might be offending you) are important to clarify an important doubt. There are many folks out there including educators who wrongly believe that carbon dating can be used on the stone itself without any need for organic material to be around. This question has had a fairly large number of views, showing that there is interest. There might not be a clear answer but that's ok. I humbly request you to let it be.
    – Nikhil VJ
    Jun 12, 2017 at 6:10
  • I'm gonna say that anybody who is in science or has a degree in any kind of history science timeline dating's is gonna be corrupted" by what they believe and what they've been taught!!! I believe the difference Is: that what they're teaching is not what was and there are many prime examples of that..And then you have science going back over itself through recent history and even forward ...that will come back on itself Exclaiming and a new discovery! Found it has changed everything we know about History!! blah blah blah... And mind you yet they do this while ignoring other certain technicaliti
    – Lady Amiz
    Jul 14 at 17:51

3 Answers 3


First of all, carbon dating is a highly inexact science to begin with. If you submit identical samples to different labs you will get widely differing results. Also, all labs I know of require the submission to describe where the sample came from and provide an estimated age of the sample. In fact, a lot of labs not only require you to estimate the age of the sample, they require you to justify your estimate. Obviously, this is not scientific. A scientific measurement is "blind", meaning the tester does not what the result should be ahead of time; carbon dating does not fall into this category.

As far as stratigraphy is concerned, infiltrated remains, the kind of error you describe are always a concern. Usually any kind of single piece of evidence is not sufficient to date an object; an overwhelming and diversified set of evidence is necessary. For example, if a bone is found in a tomb, that is not enough to date the construction of the tomb, because the bone could have been placed in the tomb long after it was constructed.

There is no way to date a stone carving based on just the stone itself, because the chemistry of the situation is too variable and too complex. For example, moisture and temperature fluctuation will have a big effect on how a stone weathers. So, one excavated stone might look brand new, and another one very ancient and degraded.

Usually stone carvings are dated either on the basis of style or on the archaeological context they are found in.

  • I guess the expression "timelessness" really comes to life then for things made of stone.
    – Nikhil VJ
    Jun 10, 2017 at 1:50
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    Carbon dating is NOT a "highly inexact science" as this answer states. Like any measurement, carbon dates must calibrated according to a standard that are time period (and hemisphere) sensitive. As a result, uncertainties can vary from +/- 15 yrs for dates 2,000-3,000 yrs BP to +/- 300 yrs for dates older than 10,000 yrs. The fact that results are reproducible within and across labs indicates exacting methodology. As the science matures and calibration data refined, calibration will only improve with time, and by extension, as will calculated dates. Feb 22, 2022 at 17:48

A lot of crafted items can be reasonably dated by how they were made, and what they were made of. How readily available a given material (in this case, stone) is can be influenced by a lot of factors: trade, weather, societal conditions, affluence in different social tiers, etc. The item's time period of origin can be narrowed down by substances found in adjacent sediment deposits and carbon dating of these substances left in the deposits on the object itself.

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    This is pretty much it. Sediment deposits in layers. Everything in the same layer is likely left there at roughly the same time (kind of like rings on a tree). So you only have to carbon or isotope-date something in that layer, and you have a pretty good estimate for the date of everything in that layer. See stratigraphy for more information.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 20, 2015 at 2:39
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    additional techniques that sometimes can be used are thermoluminiscence and tree rings. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermoluminescence_dating en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendrochronology
    – mart
    Sep 22, 2015 at 14:19
  • thanks. Now what if a clean stone sculpture got sediment-deposited 5000 years AFTER it was made, because till then the people around it made sure it didn't get sediment-deposited? (or if like us they've dug it out and placed it in the national museum which will only get sediment-deposited after the present civilization collapses or that area suffers a violent cataclysm). Thanks for suggesting the other more social angles, but my question was specifically asking whether dating the stone item itself is possible or not.
    – Nikhil VJ
    Sep 23, 2015 at 1:49
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    In the exceedingly implausible event that something was cleaned so thoroughly as to be purged of all residue, a number of possibilities for close dating still exist, but they are not technological. While the stone material existing in your hypothetical scenario could be sourced(locationally) based on minute differences in it's composition, a timestamp on when crafting took place would be impossible. Addendum: A lot of stonework that is in a not dissimilar situation of being uncovered or cleaned can be dated by it's own record; think the Sphinx.
    – Minativ7
    Sep 23, 2015 at 6:33
  • @T.E.D.: Not quite - you obtain a pretty good minimum age for everything in the layer, assuming no evidence of prior layer mixing or disturbance. Mar 31, 2018 at 14:47

The surface of a stone gradually changes with exposure to air.

Carved surfaces will show less "patina".

Try to estimate rate of change in the patina.

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    Although this may be a good start for an answer, this post badly needs further expansion. May 11, 2018 at 22:44

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