Radioactive carbon dating method

In addition, samples need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove carbon contamination from glues and soil before dating.

This is particularly important for very old samples.

Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of C, making it incredibly difficult to measure and extremely sensitive to contamination.

In the early years of radiocarbon dating a product’s decay was measured, but this required huge samples (e.g. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS), a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual C atoms in a sample.

In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.

Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.Some of the first radiocarbon dates produced showed that the Scottish tombs were thousands of years older than those in Greece.

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