1470 Skull And Radiometric Dating

Many people think radioactive dating gives a foolproof method of finding a rock's age. Richard Leakey's experience with skull 1470 shows otherwise.

The fossil skull known as 1470 was found by Richard Leakey in 1972 in Kenya. It has proved a difficult skull to date. When Leakey made his find, he believed the skull was about 2.6 million years old. So he sent samples of the rock in which 1470 was found to Cambridge, England, for dating.1 Tests on these first samples gave an average age not of 2.6 million years, but of an incredible 221 million years!2 This was more than 218 million years too great!

The scientists who did the dating decided the rock they had tested must have been contaminated. So Leakey sent more samples. From these the scientists chose crystals that seemed fresher than others, and they came up with an age of 2.4 million years. (They later adjusted this to 2.6 million years, plus or minus 260,000 years, which agreed well with Leakey's belief before dating tests even began.)

But dating work on the rock did not stop there.3 More samples were taken. More tests were done. Results this time ranged from 290,000 years up to 19.5 million years! Trying to bring some sense to the results, paleomagnetic determinations were begun.4 Leakey's 1470 fossil was then given an age of three million years. But this date drew opposition from palaeontologists who said it conflicted with the age of animal fossils from the region. Then Dr. Garniss Curtiss, from the University of California at Berkeley, said his potassium/argon tests dated the rock at 1.8 million years.

Is radioactive dating reliable? Ask Richard Leakey. He was given dates ranging from 290,000 years to 221 million years for his 1470 skull, using the supposedly reliable potassium/argon method.

(Based on information in Missing Links, by John Reader, BCA/Collins, London, 1981, pp. 206-209.)

Source: 'Creation Ex-Nihilo', Vol.8, No.4, September 1986

  • 1. Dating was done by the potassium/argon method on rock known as KBS tuff.
  • 2. Samples were tested by Fitch and Miller at Cambridge.
  • 3. By Fitch and Miller.
  • 4. These relate to shifts in the earth's magnetic field inferred from rocks.