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Carbon 14 dating range

There are three carbon isotopes that occur as part of the Earth's natural processes; these are carbon-12, carbon-13 and carbon-14.The unstable nature of carbon 14 (with a precise half-life that makes it easy to measure) means it is ideal as an absolute dating method.It is presumed that the proportion of atmospheric C is the same today as it was in 1950 (10), (11) and that the half-life remains the same.

date of organic material - but an approximate age, usually within a range of a few years either way.

The other method is “Relative Dating” which gives an order of events without giving an exact age (1): typically artefact typology or the study of the sequence of the evolution of fossils.

The other two isotopes in comparison are more common than carbon-14 in the atmosphere but increase with the burning of fossil fuels making them less reliable for study (2); carbon-14 also increases, but its relative rarity means its increase is negligible. After this point, other Absolute Dating methods may be used.

Today, the radiocarbon-14 dating method is used extensively in environmental sciences and in human sciences such as archaeology and anthropology.

AMS counts the quantity of C isotope is constantly formed in the upper atmosphere thanks to the effects of cosmic rays on nitrogen-14 atoms.

It is oxidised quickly and absorbed in great quantities by all living organisms - animal and plant, land and ocean dwelling alike.Typically, a Master's Degree in chemistry is required because of the extensive lab work.Increasingly though, students are learning about the principles of radiocarbon dates in archaeology, palaeontology and climate science degrees and can combine cross-disciplinary studies.When the half-life was corrected in 1950, the year was taken as a base date from which to calculate all resulting dates.Therefore, any expression of “before present” will mean “before 1950”.It also has some applications in geology; its importance in dating organic materials cannot be underestimated enough.In 1979, Desmond Clark said of the method “we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation” (3).Radiocarbon dating may only be used on organic materials.Typically (6): The above list is not exhaustive; most organic material is suitable so long as it is of sufficient age and has not mineralised - dinosaur bones are out as they no longer have any carbon left.This does not mean that we have a precise year of 3780BC, it means we then need to calibrate through other methods that will show us how atmospheric concentrations of the C isotope has changed - most typically through the dendrochronology records (tree ring data) (10).Very old trees such as North American Bristlecone Pine are ideal for constructing long and accurate records of the state of the atmosphere.

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