Despite the name, it does not give an absolute date of organic material - but an approximate age, usually within a range of a few years either way. There are three carbon isotopes that occur as part of the Earth's natural processes; these are carbon, carbon and carbon 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. The other two isotopes in comparison are more common than carbon in the atmosphere but increase with the burning of fossil fuels making them less reliable for study 2 ; carbon also increases, but its relative rarity means its increase is negligible. The half-life of the 14 C isotope is 5, years, adjusted from 5, years originally calculated in the s; the upper limit of dating is in the region of , years, after which the amount of 14 C is negligible 3.
Particular isotopes are suitable for different applications due to the types of atoms present in the mineral or other material and its approximate age.
Carbon-14 is useful for dating organic remains from which geological epoch
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as carbon, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon or radiocarbon dating, which is used to date organic remains. This is a radiometric technique since it is based on radioactive decay.
Carbon moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. With death, the uptake of carbon stops. It takes 5, years for half the carbon to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon After another 5, years only one-quarter of the original carbon will remain.
After yet another 5, years only one-eighth will be left. By measuring the carbon in organic material , scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact. The relatively short half-life of carbon, 5, years, makes dating reliable only up to about 50, years. The technique often cannot pinpoint the date of an archeological site better than historic records, but is highly effective for precise dates when calibrated with other dating techniques such as tree-ring dating.
An additional problem with carbon dates from archeological sites is known as the "old wood" problem. It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.
Thus dating that particular tree does not necessarily indicate when the fire burned or the structure was built. For this reason, many archaeologists prefer to use samples from short-lived plants for radiocarbon dating. The development of accelerator mass spectrometry AMS dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard. Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods.Radiometric Dating is Flawed!! Really?? How Old IS the Earth?
One of the most widely used is potassium—argon dating K—Ar dating. Potassium is a radioactive isotope of potassium that decays into argon The half-life of potassium is 1. Potassium is common in rocks and minerals, allowing many samples of geochronological or archeological interest to be dated.
Argon , a noble gas, is not commonly incorporated into such samples except when produced in situ through radioactive decay. The date measured reveals the last time that the object was heated past the closure temperature at which the trapped argon can escape the lattice. K—Ar dating was used to calibrate the geomagnetic polarity time scale. Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated.
This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment. This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item. Heating an item to degrees Celsius or higher releases the trapped electrons , producing light.
This technique is not restricted to bones; it can also be used on cloth, wood and plant fibers. Carbon dating has been used successfully on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Minoan ruins and tombs of the pharaohs among other things. Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon. The half-life of carbon is approximately 5, years. The short half-life of carbon means it cannot be used to date fossils that are allegedly extremely old, e.
The question should be whether or not carbon can be used to date any artifacts at all? The answer is not simple. There are a few categories of artifacts that can be dated using carbon; however, they cannot be more 50, years old. Carbon cannot be used to date biological artifacts of organisms that did not get their carbon dioxide from the air. This rules out carbon dating for most aquatic organisms, because they often obtain at least some of their carbon from dissolved carbonate rock.
The age of the carbon in the rock is different from that of the carbon in the air and makes carbon dating data for those organisms inaccurate under the assumptions normally used for carbon dating.
This restriction extends to animals that consume seafood in their diet.
How do geologists use carbon dating to find the age of rocks?
As stated previously, carbon dating cannot be used on artifacts over about 50, years old. These artifacts have gone through many carbon half-lives, and the amount of carbon remaining in them is miniscule and very difficult to detect.
Carbon dating cannot be used on most fossils, not only because they are almost always allegedly too old, but also because they rarely contain the original carbon of the organism that has been fossilized. Also, many fossils are contaminated with carbon from the environment during collection or preservation procedures. Scientists attempt to check the accuracy of carbon dating by comparing carbon dating data to data from other dating methods.
Other methods scientists use include counting rock layers and tree rings. When scientists first began to compare carbon dating data to data from tree rings, they found carbon dating provided "too-young" estimates of artifact age.
Scientists now realize that production of carbon has not been constant over the years, but has changed as the radiation from the sun has fluctuated.
Nuclear tests, nuclear reactors and the use of nuclear weapons have also changed the composition of radioisotopes in the air over the last few decades. This human nuclear activity will make precise dating of fossils from our lifetime very difficult due to contamination of the normal radioisotope composition of the earth with addition artificially produced radioactive atoms.
The various confounding factors that can adversely affect the accuracy of carbon dating methods are evident in many of the other radioisotope dating methods. Although the half-life of some of them are more consistent with the evolutionary worldview of millions to billions of years, the assumptions used in radiometric dating put the results of all radiometric dating methods in doubt.
The following is an article on this subject. Although the half-life of carbon makes it unreliable for dating fossils over about 50, years old, there are other isotopes scientists use to date older artifacts. These isotopes have longer half-lives and so are found in greater abundance in older fossils. All of these methods are accurate only back to the last global catastrophe i. The assumptions are similar to the assumptions used in carbon dating.
Because of its short half-life, the number of C isotopes in a sample is negligible after about 50, years, making it impossible to use for dating older samples.
C is used often in dating artifacts from humans. Corina Fiore is a writer and photographer living in suburban Philadelphia.
She earned a B. Fiore taught high school science for 7 years and offered several teacher workshops to regarding education techniques. She worked as a staff writer for science texts and has been published in Praxis review materials for beginning teachers.
How to Calculate Radioactivity. How to Calculate Subatomic Particles.
By Corina Fiore; Updated April 24, Paul Grand at creativecommons. Depending on which text editor you're pasting into, you might have to add the italics to the site name.
Which Elements Are Isotopes? What Is Chronometric Dating?