What is radioactive carbon dating

In contrast to relative dating techniques whereby artifacts were simply designated as "older" or "younger" than other cultural remains based on the presence of fossils or stratigraphic position, 14C dating provided an easy and increasingly accessible way for archaeologists to construct chronologies of human behavior and examine temporal changes through time at a finer scale than what had previously been possible.

Radiocarbon dating was the first chronometric technique widely available to archaeologists and was especially useful because it allowed researchers to directly date the panoply of organic remains often found in archaeological sites including artifacts made from bone, shell, wood, and other carbon based materials.

The boat of a pharaoh was discovered in a sealed crypt and reassembled in a museum near the pyramids (see Fig. The age of our galaxy and earth also can be estimated using radioactive dating.

Using the decays of uranium and thorium, our galaxy has been found to be between 10 and 20 billion years old and the earth has been found to be 4.6 billion years old. Within experimental error, this estimate agrees with the 15 billion year estimate of the age of the Universe.

This process of decay occurs at a regular rate and can be measured.

By comparing the amount of carbon 14 remaining in a sample with a modern standard, we can determine when the organism died, as for example, when a shellfish was collected or a tree cut down.

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Radiocarbon dating is one of the most widely used scientific dating methods in archaeology and environmental science.

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