How do scientists use carbon dating

The C14 technique has been and continues to be applied and used in many, many different fields including hydrology, atmospheric science, oceanography, geology, palaeoclimatology, archaeology and biomedicine.There are three principal isotopes of carbon which occur naturally - C12, C13 (both stable) and C14 (unstable or radioactive).There is a quantitative relationship between the decay of 14C and the production of a beta particle. That is, the probability of decay for an atom of 14C in a discrete sample is constant, thereby requiring the application of statistical methods for the analysis of counting data.

Writing of the European Upper Palaeolithic, Movius (1960) concluded that "time alone is the lens that can throw it into focus".

By measuring the C14 concentration or residual radioactivity of a sample whose age is not known, it is possible to obtain the countrate or number of decay events per gram of Carbon.

By comparing this with modern levels of activity (1890 wood corrected for decay to 1950 AD) and using the measured half-life it becomes possible to calculate a date for the death of the sample.

The 14C formed is rapidly oxidised to 14CO2 and enters the earth's plant and animal lifeways through photosynthesis and the food chain.

The rapidity of the dispersal of C14 into the atmosphere has been demonstrated by measurements of radioactive carbon produced from thermonuclear bomb testing.

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