Old pearls

A pearl excavated from the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia is believed to be 2,000 years old. It’s always nice if people believe something, but that doeesn’t mean it’s true. Pearls are nice, but how old is this pearl really?

That’s a question nobody can answer with any kind of certainty. Archeology is a tricky science and though it’s one type that is at least sometimes based on facts, it also makes a lot of assumptions. And dating this pearl is one of them. The problem with digging up and interpreting very old sites is that you don’t really know what happened. There are usually no written records, so you don’t have much to go by. It’s all a matter of interpretation. Interpretations aren’t necessarily a bad thing and you often need them to come to a conclusion. But archeologists should always keep in mind that they are interpreting facts and that means that the conclusions are likely to be biased.

6519636-3x2-700x467Archeologist heavily rely on carbon dating to determine how old a site is. Just like they did with the shell of this pearl. But though carbon dating might sound very scientific, in most cases it’s not. Carbon dating is a complicated process, but in a highly simplified version it’s like this: A changes into B and this takes a certain amount of time. If you know how much A you had and how much B there is now you can calculate how old something is. But there are a few big problems here. For in most cases you cannot know with certainty if nothing has influenced A and B. Maybe an amount of A has disappeared in another way, or maybe B has made it into the soil somehow. Or maybe something happened that sped up the whole process. And any of these things can completely ruin your calculations and give a way too old date. (Of course it could also give a way too young age, but that’s not what archeologists are interested in.)

So the carbon dating of the shell of the pearl is meaningless. And scientists have determined that it’s a natural pearl and not cultured. I don’t know how long pearls have been cultured, but natural ones have always existed and still exist. So why can’t this natural pearl have fallen into the soil 100 years ago? Maybe there is more to this story, but the article doesn’t mention it. So it sounds very much like the researchers did a lot of wishful thinking.

Does it matter that this pearl might not be 2000 years old? Of course not. Pearls are nice and if people want to go to a museum and believe that it’s a very old pearl, then that’s fine.radiocarbon-dating-622x415 The reason why I write this is the carbon dating myth. Carbon dating is useful in forensic science. Then you can determine if bones are from someone who got killed six months or 100 years ago. As long as you know what happened to the soil where you found something this method is reliable. But as soon as you don’t know that it becomes a matter of wishful thinking.

That means that nobody can say if the earth is 10,000, 1 million or 20 billion years old. And that’s a problem, for the whole theory of evolution is based on the old age of the earth. And a pearl doesn’t matter, but the believe system of many millions of people is very important.

I won’t go further into that now, but it is something to think about. Science is too much fiction and too much wishful thinking. And we can wish whatever we want, but those wishes might not come true.

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