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The half-life of an isotope like C14 is the time it takes for half of it to decay away: in C14, every 5,730 years, half of it is gone.
Archaeological scientists have two primary ways of telling the age of artefacts and the sites from which they came: relative dating and absolute dating.
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as Carbon-14, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) dating, which is used to date organic remains.
In historical geology, the primary methods of absolute dating involve using the radioactive decay of elements trapped in rocks or minerals, including isotope systems from very young (radiocarbon dating with Radiometric dating is based on the known and constant rate of decay of radioactive isotopes into their radiogenic daughter isotopes.
Particular isotopes are suitable for different applications due to the type of atoms present in the mineral or other material and its approximate age.