Practical uses of carbon dating

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Bases may be used to remove contaminating humic acids.Some types of samples require more extensive pre-treatment than others, and these methods have evolved over the first 50 years of radiocarbon dating.The ensuing atomic interactions create a steady supply of c14 that rapidly diffuses throughout the atmosphere.Plants take up c14 along with other carbon isotopes during photosynthesis in the proportions that occur in the atmosphere; animals acquire c14 by eating the plants (or other animals).Any organic material that is available in sufficient quantity can be prepared for radiocarbon dating.

The sample is converted to graphite and mounted in an ion source from which it is sputtered and accelerated through a magnetic field.During the lifetime of an organism, the amount of c14 in the tissues remains at an equilibrium since the loss (through radioactive decay) is balanced by the gain (through uptake via photosynthesis or consumption of organically fixed carbon).However, when the organism dies, the amount of c14 declines such that the longer the time since death the lower the levels of c14 in organic tissue.This is the clock that permits levels of c14 in organic archaeological, geological, and paleontological samples to be converted into an estimate of time.The measurement of the rate of radioactive decay is known as its half-life, the time it takes for half of a sample to decay.

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