Since its first use in the 1940s radiocarbon dating has been the most accurate method of dating ancient objects and artifacts.Radiocarbon, present in living organisms, decays at a constant rate in dead tissue.Carbon-14, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide.
Love-hungry teenagers and archaeologists agree: dating is hard.But while the difficulties of single life may be intractable, the challenge of determining the age of prehistoric artifacts and fossils is greatly aided by measuring certain radioactive isotopes.Carbon-14 is also passed onto the animals that eat those plants.After death the amount of carbon-14 in the organic specimen decreases very regularly as the molecules decay.Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.
Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.
While the lighter isotopes C has decayed that what remains can no longer be measured. In 5,730 years half of the C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.
Radioactive decay can be used as a “clock” because it is unaffected by physical (e.g. For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth.
This is affected by solar activity and the earth’s magnetic field.
Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.
By measuring residual amounts of radiocarbon scientists can accurately date ancient specimens.