Which is why I am a little skeptical of this new technique:
Rowe's new method, called "non-destructive carbon dating," eliminates sampling, the destructive acid-base washes, and burning. In the new method, scientists place an entire artifact in a special chamber with a plasma, an electrically charged gas similar to gases used in big-screen plasma television displays. The gas slowly and gently oxidizes the surface of the object to produce carbon dioxide for C-14 analysis without damaging the surface, he said.
Rowe and his colleagues used the technique to analyze the ages of about 20 different organic substances, including wood, charcoal, leather, rabbit hair, a bone with mummified flesh attached, and a 1,350-year-old Egyptian weaving. The results match those of conventional carbon dating techniques, they say.
Of course the technique must be doing a little damage to the object -- the carbon has to come from somewhere -- but that damage could certainly be very small. What I wonder is how susceptible the process is to corruption by dirt, oil, bacteria, or anything else that happens to be on the surface of the object to be dated. We'll see, as more tests are done. If it works, it will make it much easier to date objects for which the artistic or sacred value forbids any sampling.