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Carbon-14 moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. It takes 5,730 years for half the carbon-14 to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon-14.After another 5,730 years only one-quarter of the original carbon-14 will remain.The development of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard.Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods.After yet another 5,730 years only one-eighth will be left.By measuring the carbon-14 in organic material, scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact.Absolute dating provides a numerical age or range in contrast with relative dating which places events in order without any measure of the age between events.

It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.Argon, a noble gas, is not commonly incorporated into such samples except when produced in situ through radioactive decay.The date measured reveals the last time that the object was heated past the closure temperature at which the trapped argon can escape the lattice.Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!

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