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Why carbon dating works

why carbon dating works-42

Further complications arise when the carbon in a sample has not taken a straightforward route from the atmosphere to the organism and thence to the measured sample. One of the most frequent uses of radiocarbon dating is to estimate the age of organic remains from archaeological sites.

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However, it is also used to determine ages of rocks, plants, trees, etc. When the sun’s rays reach them, a few of these particles turn into carbon 14 (a radioactive carbon).

All animals in the food chain, including carnivores, get their carbon indirectly from plant material, even if it is by eating animals which themselves eat plants.

The net effect of this is that all living organisms have the same radiocarbon to stable carbon ratio as the atmosphere.

By about ten half-lives, or 58,000 years, the amount of carbon-14 left in the fossil is very little- about 1/1000 of the original number of carbon-14 atoms in the fossil.

So, using carbon dating for fossils older than 60,000 years is unreliable.

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