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.
The total mass of the isotope is indicated by the numerical superscript.
While the lighter isotopes C has decayed that what remains can no longer be measured. In 5,730 years half of the C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.
Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.
Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.
Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.
A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.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.In this way large domed tombs (known as tholos or beehive tombs) in Greece were thought to predate similar structures in the Scottish Island of Maeshowe.This supported the idea that the classical worlds of Greece and Rome were at the centre of all innovations.In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.In 2008 we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26,000 years.Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.Radioactive decay can be used as a “clock” because it is unaffected by physical (e.g. For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth.This is affected by solar activity and the earth’s magnetic field.