Radiometric dating how stuff works
In addition, samples need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove carbon contamination from glues and soil before dating.
This is particularly important for very old samples.
If 1% of the carbon in a 50,000 year old sample is from a modern contaminant, the sample will be dated to around 40,000 years.
Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.
Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.
Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.
Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.
Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured.
The uncalibrated date is given with the unit BP (radiocarbon years before 1950).
Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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