How radiocarbon dating works

by Jonathan Du Hamel Age dating by measuring the amount of carbon-14 (C14) in a piece of wood and other organic artifacts is widely used in archaeology.The method is valuable for estimating the age of an object, but it is only an estimate.Radiocarbon dating is used to work out the age of things that died up to 50,000 years ago. As far as working out the age of long-dead things goes, carbon has got a few things going for it. The proteins, carbohydrates and fats that make up much of our tissues are all based on carbon.Everything from the fibres in the Shroud of Turin to Otzi the Iceman has had their birthday determined the carbon-14 way. There's plenty of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen in living things too, but carbon's got something none of them do — a radioactive isotope that can take thousands of years to decay.(I'm already well-versed with the basics of nuclear chemistry).

In general it is always better to date a properly identified single entity (such as a cereal grain or an identified bone) rather than a mixture of unidentified organic remains.The method can be used around 600-50k years to the past.There are different methods of measuring isotope amounts.Carbon-14 years are not the same as calendar years.C14 dates are usually expressed as, for instance, 1200 years BP.The cosmic rays generate neutrons which knock a proton out of nitrogen-14 to produce carbon-14.


Leave a Reply