Gyanvapi mosque case: What is carbon dating, demanded by the Hindu side, for the 'shivling'?

A Varanasi district court has allowed the Hindu side’s petition seeking carbon dating of the structure found inside the Gyanvapi mosque complex, which they claim is a ‘shivling’. But what is carbon dating and how does it work?

FP Explainers September 23, 2022 21:36:46 IST
Gyanvapi mosque case: What is carbon dating, demanded by the Hindu side, for the 'shivling'?

A Varanasi court has issued notices to the Gyanvapi mosque management to register their objections on the carbon dating plea by the next hearing. PTI File Photo

On Thursday, a Varanasi district court admitted a plea seeking carbon dating of a structure found inside the Gyanvapi mosque complex, which the Hindu side claims is a ‘shivling’.

The court also issued notices to Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque complex, to file its objection to the plea by the next date of hearing which is 29 September.

Vishnu S Jain, representing the Hindu petitioners, told ANI that the court also rejected the Gyanvapi mosque management’s plea for eight weeks’ time to prepare for the next hearing.

“Our plea seeking permission for carbon dating of the Shivling-like structure found on the Gyanvapi mosque compound, walls and other structures on the masjid complex was admitted in the court of district judge Ajay Krishna Vishvesh after which the court has issued notice and has sought reply of the Muslim side,” Madan Mohan, one of the counsel representing the Hindu plaintiffs, was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.

Earlier on 12 September, the court had rejected the plea of the Gyanvapi mosque management questioning the maintainability of the case filed by five Hindu women, seeking permission to worship the idols of Shringar Gauri on the outer wall of the masjid complex.

The Gyanvapi mosque management committee maintains that the structure in question is a part of the fountain system of the ‘wazu khana’, a small reservoir used by Muslims to perform ablutions before offering namaz.

But what is carbon dating that the Hindu side has demanded and how does it work?

Let’s decode the topic:

What is carbon dating?

Developed by American chemist Willard Libby in 1946, carbon dating is a method used to determine the age of matter that was once living.

Radiocarbon dating or carbon-14 dating compares the three different isotopes of carbon.

All living beings absorb carbon from the atmosphere, including natural radioactive carbon-14.

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.

Gyanvapi mosque case What is carbon dating demanded by the Hindu side for the shivling

A Varanasi district court has allowed the Hindu side’s petition seeking carbon dating of the ‘shivling’ found inside the Gyanvapi mosque complex. PTI File Photo

Plants absorb carbon through photosynthesis, while humans and animals get it via food. As they get their carbon from the atmosphere, they also intake carbon-12 and carbon-14 isotopes in almost the same proportion as present in the atmosphere, reports Indian Express.

Once the living being dies, the carbon intake from the atmosphere stops. While carbon-12 is stable, carbon-14, which is radioactive, disintegrates to one-half of itself in around 5,730 years.

This residual radioactive carbon decays at this constant rate and can be measured to get an estimate of when did the organism die.

The method is used by experts to date trees, plants, and animal remains as well as human artefacts made of wood or leather.

Can it be used to determine the age of non-living this?

Carbon dating is used to determine the age of objects younger than 50,000 years.

It is not used to ascertain the age of non-living things like rocks, stones, etc.

There are other methods applied to calculate the age of non-living objects. But carbon dating can be used indirectly to date rocks if they have any organic material such as dead plants or insects attached to them.

Those dead organisms can help in deciding when that inanimate object reached that place, as per Indian Express.

Is carbon dating always apt?

Not always.

The method assumes the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere has been constant in time and space, which is not true, as per Nature.

Moreover, carbon emissions from fossil fuels are disturbing the ratio of carbon-12 and carbon-14 in the atmosphere, reports Smithsonian magazine.

“In a couple of decades, we will not be able to distinguish if any radiocarbon age we get out or carbon might be from the past or from the future,” fears Peter Köhler, a physicist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

Can carbon dating be used in the Gyanvapi case?

It remains unclear if carbon dating is a suitable method to determine that the structure, which the Hindu side claims is a ‘shivling’, existed much before the mosque was built in 1669.

Gyanvapi mosque case What is carbon dating demanded by the Hindu side for the shivling

The next hearing in the Gyanvapi mosque case is is 29 September. AFP File Photo

As per Indian Express, 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.

With inputs from agencies

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