C 14 carbon dating

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There are three carbon isotopes that occur as part of the Earth's natural processes; these are carbon-12, carbon-13 and carbon-14.

The unstable nature of carbon 14 (with a precise half-life that makes it easy to measure) means it is ideal as an absolute dating method.

AMS works slightly differently; it converts the atoms of the sample into fast-moving ions so that they become charged atoms.

By applying magnetic and electrical fields, the mass of these ions is measured and the accelerator is used to remove ions that might contaminate the dating.

When the half-life was corrected in 1950, the year was taken as a base date from which to calculate all resulting dates.

As a test, the team took samples of acacia wood from two Egyptian Pharaohs and dated them; the results came back to within what was then a reasonable range: 2800BC /- 250 years whereas the earlier independent dates (largely the dendrochronology records) were 2625 /- 75 years (3), (5).

The other two isotopes in comparison are more common than carbon-14 in the atmosphere but increase with the burning of fossil fuels making them less reliable for study (2); carbon-14 also increases, but its relative rarity means its increase is negligible. After this point, other Absolute Dating methods may be used.

Today, the radiocarbon-14 dating method is used extensively in environmental sciences and in human sciences such as archaeology and anthropology.

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