Carbon 14 dating isotopes

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.

We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].

The person who wrote these words lived in the 1800s, many years before archaeologists could accurately date materials from archaeological sites using scientific methods.

And so you can look back to that layer of bark just for the half life of carbon-14, and then figure out how much carbon-14 was there in the atmosphere at that period in time. Those are those speleothems that are kind of coming out of the bottom of the cave, or stalactites.

Korff predicted that the reaction between these neutrons and nitrogen-14, which predominates in the atmosphere, would produce carbon-14, also called radiocarbon.

Libby cleverly realized that carbon-14 in the atmosphere would find its way into living matter, which would thus be tagged with the radioactive isotope.

Now, when I did that, I made a pretty big assumption, and some you all have touched on this in the comments on You Tube on the last video, is how do I know that this estimate I made is based on the assumption that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere would have been roughly constant from when this bone was living to now?

And so the question is, is the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere and in the water, and in living plants and animals, is it constant?

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