Simple definition of radiocarbon dating

The total mass of the isotope is indicated by the numerical superscript.

While the lighter isotopes C has decayed that what remains can no longer be measured. In 5,730 years half of the C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.

Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.

Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.

Atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. Most carbon on Earth exists as the very stable isotope carbon-12, with a very small amount as carbon-13.

Here’s an example using the simplest atom, hydrogen. Carbon-14 is an unstable isotope of carbon that will eventually decay at a known rate to become carbon-12.

Radiocarbon is not stable; over time radiocarbon atoms decay into nitrogen atoms.

Plants and animals assimilate carbon 14 from carbon dioxide throughout their lifetimes.

When they die, they stop exchanging carbon with the biosphere and their carbon 14 content then starts to decrease at a rate determined by the law of radioactive decay.

is a technique used by scientists to learn the ages of biological specimens – for example, wooden archaeological artifacts or ancient human remains – from the distant past.

It can be used on objects as old as about 62,000 years.

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