Testing the radiocarbon dating method

Most carbon consists of the isotopes carbon 12 and carbon 13, which are very stable.

A very small percentage of carbon, however, consists of the isotope carbon 14, or , which is unstable.

When it comes to dating archaeological samples, several timescale problems arise.

For example, Christian time counts the birth of Christ as the beginning, AD 1 (Anno Domini); everything that occurred before Christ is counted backwards from AD as BC (Before Christ).

There are two techniques for dating in archaeological sites: relative and absolute dating.

Relative dating stems from the idea that something is younger or older relative to something else.

Because atmospheric carbon 14 arises at about the same rate that the atom decays, Earth's levels of carbon 14 have remained fairly constant.

The extra neutrons in Carbon-14’s case make it radioactive (thus the term, radiocarbon).

Radiocarbon is produced in the upper atmosphere after Nitrogen-14 isotopes have been impacted by cosmic radiation.

How It Works: Carbon has 3 isotopic forms: Carbon-12, Carbon-13, and Carbon-14.

The numbers refer to the atomic weight, so Carbon-12 has 6 protons and 6 neutrons, Carbon-13 has 6 protons and 7 neutrons, and Carbon-14 has 6 protons and 8 neutrons.

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