C 14 half life carbon dating

Desmond Clark (1979) wrote that were it not for radiocarbon dating, "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation" (Clark, 1979:7).

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

These isotopes are present in the following amounts C12 - 98.89%, C13 - 1.11% and C14 - 0.00000000010%.

Thus, one carbon 14 atom exists in nature for every 1,000,000,000,000 C12 atoms in living material.

There is a useful diagrammatic representation of this process given here Libby, Anderson and Arnold (1949) were the first to measure the rate of this decay.

They found that after 5568 years, half the C14 in the original sample will have decayed and after another 5568 years, half of that remaining material will have decayed, and so on (see figure 1 below).

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.

Plants and animals which utilise carbon in biological foodchains take up 14C during their lifetimes.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.Libby later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960: (From Taylor, 1987).Today, there are over 130 radiocarbon dating laboratories around the world producing radiocarbon assays for the scientific community.

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