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Will Court Allow Carbon Dating of ‘Shivling’ in Gyanvapi Case? All About the Method Demanded by Hindu Side


It’s a crucial day for the Gyanvapi case as the court of Varanasi’s senior-most judge is likely to pass an order on Friday on a plea by Hindu women petitioners for a scientific investigation, including carbon dating, of a purported ‘Shivling’ found inside the mosque complex earlier this year during a video survey.

Last month, four of the five Hindu women petitioners — seeking the right to pray year-long at the shrine inside the complex — had filed a plea, saying it was necessary to determine the age of the ‘Shivling’. The fifth petitioner, however, felt any testing, including carbon dating, may harm the ‘Shivling’.

An objection was also raised by the mosque committee, which said the case by the Hindu women was about worshipping at a shrine inside the mosque and had nothing to do with its structure. It had also said the ‘object’ being identified as a ‘Shivling’ was actually a “fountain”.

So, how can carbon dating help strengthen the case of the Gyanvapi petitioners? News18 explains:

[q]What is carbon dating?[/q]

[ans]A popular method, carbon dating is used to establish the age of organic material. The dating method makes use of the fact that a particular isotope of carbon called C-14, with an atomic mass of 14, is radioactive, and decays at a rate that is well-known. Developed by American chemist Willard Libby in 1946, Radiocarbon dating or carbon-14 dating compares the three different isotopes of carbon. The most abundant carbon isotope is carbon-12 which remains stable in the environment, as per The Conversation, while the other isotope carbon-14 decays over time.

Once the living being dies, the carbon intake from the atmosphere stops. Carbon-14, which is radioactive, disintegrates to one-half of itself in around 5,730 years and this constant decay can be measured to get an estimate of when the organism died.[/ans]

[q]But what about non-living things?[/q]

[ans]Carbon dating is used to determine the age of objects younger than 50,000 years and cannot be used to determine the age of non-living things, for example, rocks.

However, it can be used indirectly in certain circumstances. According to the Indian Express, the age of the ice cores in glaciers and polar regions is determined using carbon dating by studying the carbon dioxide molecules trapped inside large ice sheets. The trapped molecules have no interaction with the outside atmosphere and are found in the same state as when they were trapped.

How long a rock has been at a particular place can also be determined using similar indirect methods. If there are organic materials, dead plants or insects trapped beneath the rock, they can give an indication of when that rock, or any other thing, had reached that place.[/ans]

[q]Is carbon dating foolproof?[/q]

[ans]According to Nature, the method assumes the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere has been constant in time and space, which is not true.

Smithsonian magazine pointed to another lacuna, saying carbon emissions from fossil fuels are disturbing the ratio of carbon-12 and carbon-14 in the atmosphere, which may interfere with the process in future.[/ans]

[q]Will it help in the Gyanvapi case?[/q]

[ans]This is still not clear since one of the methods of carbon dating requires examining trapped organic material beneath the structure which would involve uprooting it. In such a scenario, this method might not be a feasible option.[/ans]

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