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Over the years, archaeology has uncovered information about past cultures that would have been left unknown had it not been with the help of such technologies as radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, archaeomagnetic dating, fluoride dating, luminescence dating, and obsidian hydration analysis, among others.Carbon dating is used to determine the age of biological artifacts up to 50,000 years old.Pickering and her former Ph D student at the high‑tech Isotope Chronology Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, Dr Helen Green, measured the levels of uranium, thorium and lead in the samples.The results pegged the fossil monkey, about the size of a small cat, to around 1.3 million years old.“The presence of endemic New World monkeys on islands in the Caribbean is one of the great questions of biogeography, and now knowing the age of these fossils changes our understanding of primate evolution in this region,” she said.The results of the fossil monkey dating, work done while she was at the University of Melbourne, were announced just three months into Pickering’s UCT appointment at the Department of Geological Sciences.Fresh from a six‑year stint as a postdoc in Professor Jon Woodhead’s lab at Melbourne, Pickering’s job is to set up a “clean” uranium series dating laboratory (using uranium‑lead and uranium‑thorium) in the department.But archaeology’s aim to understand mankind is a noble endeavor that goes beyond uncovering buried treasures, gathering information, and dating events.It is in knowing what made past cultures cease to exist that could provide the key in making sure that history does not repeat itself.
The laboratory has tackled various problems including the dating of ash from the Lucy Fossil site in Ethiopia to constrain Lucy’s age, and the dating of clay mineral diagenesis to constrain orogensis in both the Appalachians and Cordilleran Mountains Belts.
Pickering’s special skills set is best illustrated by two photographs.
In one she wears a clean lab suit, required for working in the lab with uranium and lead used for dating speleothems, a “catch‑all” phrase for calcium‑carbonate deposits that form in caves and often sandwich or cling to fossil remains.
These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth's surface is moving and changing.
As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils.
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Historians can tell what cultures thrived in different regions and when they disintegrated.