How carbon dating works chemically dating acme acres style
(This, in turn, is caused by variations in the magnetic fields of the earth and sun, for example.) Although the ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon in the atmosphere has varied over time, it is quite uniform around the globe at any given time because the atmosphere mixes very quickly and constantly.
Plants obtain all their carbon atoms from the atmosphere.
Back in the 1940s, the American chemist Willard Libby used this fact to determine the ages of organisms long dead.
Most carbon atoms have six protons and six neutrons in their nuclei and are called carbon 12. But a tiny percentage of carbon is made of carbon 14, or radiocarbon, which has six protons and eight neutrons and is not stable: half of any sample of it decays into other atoms after 5,700 years.
A form of radiometric dating used to determine the age of organic remains in ancient objects, such as archaeological specimens, on the basis of the half-life of carbon-14 and a comparison between the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in a sample of the remains to the known ratio in living organisms. A technique for measuring the age of organic remains based on the rate of decay of carbon 14.
The carbon 14 present in an organism at the time of its death decays at a steady rate, and so the age of the remains can be calculated from the amount of carbon 14 that is left. The cells of all living things contain carbon atoms that they take in from their environment.
Radiocarbon dating has been one of the most significant discoveries in 20th century science.
"Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.
We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].
In living organisms, which are always taking in carbon, the levels of carbon 14 likewise stay constant.
But in a dead organism, no new carbon is coming in, and its carbon 14 gradually begins to decay.