Dating a giant
This is where luminescence really shines: it can measure up to hundreds of thousands of years.
After around 50,000 years, there’s very little carbon-14 left to detect.At the bottom of a pit dug three metres into a cave floor, Kira Westaway sat on a box, methodically pushing hollow tubes into the surrounding dirt and pulling them out. The cave, named Liang Bua, was nestled in dense tropical jungles on Flores, an island at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.Less than a year earlier, Westaway was a scuba instructor in Thailand with a successful business.Science magazine would proclaim the bundle of bones the second-most important find of 2004 (after the discovery of water on Mars). In the cool calm of Liang Bua, the student continued collecting her sediments, blissfully unaware of the wild ride that lay ahead.Having spent most of her life in Asia and Australia, Westaway is now based at Macquarie University in Sydney, but a lingering accent betrays her birth country: England.
Still, the idea of a research career remained squirrelled away in her mind.