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Discoveries using carbon dating

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The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.

The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.

The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.

The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.

Climate science required the invention and mastery of many difficult techniques.

These had pitfalls, which could lead to controversy.

Libby received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 1960.

Precisely dating archaeological artifacts is not as easy or harmless as it might seem.

The most common method, radiocarbon dating, requires that a piece of an organic object be destroyedwashed with a strong acid and base at high temperature to remove impurities, and then set aflame.

After a creature's death the isotope would slowly decay away over millennia at a fixed rate.

Thus the less of it that remained in an object, in proportion to normal carbon, the older the object was.