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One such indicator is the uranium-thorium dating method used by the Lamont-Doherty group.Uranium 234, a radioactive element present in the environment, slowly decays to form thorium 230.Using a mass spectrometer, an instrument that accelerates streams of atoms and uses magnets to sort them out according to mass and electric charge, the group has learned to measure the ratio of uranium to thorium very precisely.The Lamont-Doherty scientists conducted their analyses on samples of coral drilled from a reef off the island of Barbados.

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996.Radiocarbon dating can be used on samples of bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers.The half-life of a radioactive isotope describes the amount of time that it takes half of the isotope in a sample to decay.To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.

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