How to do carbon dating problems

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Welcome to the K12 section of the Radiocarbon WEBinfo site.

The aim here is to provide clear, understandable information relating to radiocarbon dating for the benefit of K12 students, as well as lay people who are not requiring detailed information about the method of radiocarbon dating itself.

The C14 method has been and continues to be applied and used in many, many different fields including hydrology, atmospheric science, oceanography, geology, palaeoclimatology, archaeology and biomedicine.

All plants and animals on Earth are made principally of carbon.

The half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for half the radiocarbon in a sample of bone or shell or any carbon sample to disappear.

Libby found that it took 5568 years for half the radiocarbon to decay.

During the period of a plant's life, the plant is taking in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, which is how the plant makes energy and grows.

Animals eat plants, and some eat other animals in the food chain.

They thought that sites which had the same kinds of pots and tools would be the same age.

The job of a radiocarbon laboratory is to measure the remaining amounts of radiocarbon in a carbon sample.

This is very difficult and requires a lot of careful work to produce reliable dates.

The relative dating method worked very well, but only in sites which were had a connection to the relative scale. When radiocarbon dating was developed, it revolutionised archaeology, because it enabled them to more confidently date the past, and to build a more accurate picture of the human past.

The archaeologist Colin Renfrew (1973) called it the development of this dating method 'the radiocarbon revolution' in describing its great impact upon the human sciences.

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