Radiocarbon dating of papyrus


The National Geographic Society submitted five tiny samples of the Gospel of Judas for AMS testing at the University of Arizona's radiocarbon dating lab in Tucson—the same lab that dated the Dead Sea Scrolls.The Judas fragments included four minute pieces of papyrus and a small bit of the book's leather binding with a piece of attached papyrus page.

Most archaeologists have a working knowledge of radiocarbon dating.

This knowledge is less common among museum curators, conservators and preservation scientists whose collections may not be defined as archaeological, but nevertheless contain dateable materials.

The 14C in an organism is always being replenished from the atmosphere at a constant rate while it is alive, and the ratio between it and the stable carbon isotopes is approximately constant with time.

But when a plant or organism dies, its 14C intake stops and what remains will decay at a known rate (half life of 5,730 years). —- This post is part of a series by Conservators and Curators on papyrus and in particular the , a 24 foot long papyrus in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection.

C-14 dating was developed after World War II in the 1940s and 1950s and the principal is based on the measurement of the unstable carbon isotope 14C levels in a sample as compared to modern, known standards of the stable carbon isotopes 12C and 13C, which comprise the great majority of atmospheric carbon.