Scientific definition of carbon dating

No other scientific method has managed to revolutionize man’s understanding not only of his present but also of events that already happened thousands of years ago.

Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.

American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity.

He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample. Libby who first measured radiocarbon’s rate of decay and established 5568 years ± 30 years as the half-life. Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his efforts to develop radiocarbon dating.1.

Over the years, carbon 14 dating has also found applications in geology, hydrology, geophysics, atmospheric science, oceanography, paleoclimatology and even biomedicine.

Radiocarbon, or carbon 14, is an isotope of the element carbon that is unstable and weakly radioactive. Carbon 14 is continually being formed in the upper atmosphere by the effect of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen 14 atoms.

An age could be estimated by measuring the amount of carbon-14 present in the sample and comparing this against an internationally used reference standard.

Background samples analyzed are usually geological in origin of infinite age such as coal, lignite, and limestone.

Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) is a modern radiocarbon dating method that is considered to be the more efficient way to measure radiocarbon content of a sample.

In this method, the carbon 14 content is directly measured relative to the carbon 12 and carbon 13 present. Some inorganic matter, like a shell’s aragonite component, can also be dated as long as the mineral’s formation involved assimilation of carbon 14 in equilibrium with the atmosphere.

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.

Radiocarbon dating is essentially a method designed to measure residual radioactivity.

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