A form of radiometric dating used to determine the age of organic remains in ancient objects, such as archaeological specimens, on the basis of the half-life of carbon-14 and a comparison between the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in a sample of the remains to the known ratio in living organisms.
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The development of radiocarbon dating has had a profound impact on archaeology.
In addition to permitting more accurate dating within archaeological sites than previous methods, it allows comparison of dates of events across great distances.
Other corrections must be made to account for the proportion of throughout the biosphere (reservoir effects).
Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.
The unstable carbon-14 gradually decays to carbon-12 at a steady rate. Scientists measure the ratio of carbon isotopes to be able to estimate how far back in time a biological sample was active or alive.
This plot shows the level of carbon-14 in the atmosphere as measured in New Zealand (red) and Austria (green), representing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, respectively.is a term for radiocarbon dating based on timestamps left by above-ground nuclear explosions, and it is especially useful for putting an absolute age on organisms that lived through those events.In The Cosmic Story of Carbon-14 Ethan Siegel writes: The only major fluctuation [in carbon-14] we know of occurred when we began detonating nuclear weapons in the open air, back in the mid-20th Century.If you ever wondered why nuclear tests are now performed underground, this is why.Most radiocarbon dating today is done using an accelerator mass spectrometer, an instrument that directly counts the numbers of carbon 14 and carbon12 in a sample.Follow the links in this post to learn more about radiocarbon dating.