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Most of the thousands of carbon dates from archaeological sites from the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic era are wrong, say scientists, perhaps even as many as 90%.

As a result, archaeologists can agree on the history of this era only in the broadest of brushstrokes.

Collagen, the part of bone that contains the most carbon suitable for dating, sops up contaminants like a sponge, creating a false record.

If just 2% of the carbon atoms are contemporary, then a 44,000-year-old bone will return a carbon date of 33,000 years old, Higham calculates.

Buckland's immediate successors did a little better.

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