Simple definition of radiocarbon dating

The amount of carbon-14 gradually decreases through radioactive beta decay with a half-life of 5,730 years.

So, scientists can estimate the age of the fossil by looking at the level of decay in its radioactive carbon.

Plants take in atmospheric carbon dioxide by photosynthesis, and are ingested by animals.

So, every living thing is constantly exchanging carbon-14 with its environment as long as it lives. The carbon in its body will remain until it decomposes or fossilizes.

Histories of archaeology often refer to its impact as the "radiocarbon revolution".

The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.

Some chemical elements have more than one type of atom. Carbon has two stable, nonradioactive isotopes: carbon-12 (12C), and carbon-13 (13C).

In addition, there are trace amounts of the unstable isotope carbon-14 (14C) on Earth.

Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years.

The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age.

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