Definition of radiocarbon dating

The relatively short-lived C taken into organic matter is also slightly variable. However, under about 20,000 years the results can be compared with dendrochronology, based on tree rings.

For the most accurate work, variations are compensated by means of calibration curves.

When they die, they stop exchanging carbon with the biosphere and their carbon 14 content then starts to decrease at a rate determined by the law of radioactive decay.

Radiocarbon dating is essentially a method designed to measure residual radioactivity.

Carbon has different isotopes, which are usually not radioactive.

Plants take up atmospheric carbon dioxide by photosynthesis, and are eaten by animals, so every living thing is constantly exchanging carbon-14 with its environment as long as it lives. In 1958 Hessel de Vries showed that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere varies with time and locality.

Radiocarbon, or carbon 14, is an isotope of the element carbon that is unstable and weakly radioactive. Carbon 14 is continually being formed in the upper atmosphere by the effect of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen 14 atoms.

An age could be estimated by measuring the amount of carbon-14 present in the sample and comparing this against an internationally used reference standard.

The impact of the radiocarbon dating technique on modern man has made it one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.

The method does not count beta particles but the number of carbon atoms present in the sample and the proportion of the isotopes. Samples that have been radiocarbon dated since the inception of the method include charcoal, wood, twigs, seeds, bones, shells, leather, peat, lake mud, soil, hair, pottery, pollen, wall paintings, corals, blood residues, fabrics, paper or parchment, resins, and water, among others.

Physical and chemical pretreatments are done on these materials to remove possible contaminants before they are analyzed for their radiocarbon content.

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