Carbon 12 dating accuracy
Carbon dating is used to determine the age of biological artifacts up to 50,000 years old.
This technique is widely used on recent artifacts, but teachers should note that this technique will not work on older fossils (like those of the dinosaurs which are over 65 million years old).
New discoveries have filled in the gaps, and shown us in unimaginable detail the shape of the great ‘tree of life’.
Darwin and his contemporaries could never have imagined the improvements in resolution of stratigraphy that have come since 1859, nor guessed what fossils were to be found in the southern continents, nor predicted the huge increase in the number of amateur and professional paleontologists worldwide.
As you learned in the previous page, carbon dating uses the half-life of Carbon-14 to find the approximate age of certain objects that are 40,000 years old or younger.
When it collides with an energetic neutron it becomes carbon-14, with six protons and eight neutrons and gives off a hydrogen atom with one proton and zero neutrons. Carbon-14 is an isotope of carbon, which exists only is small amounts in the environment (1 in one trillion carbon atoms is carbon-14).
Libby and coworkers, and it has provided a way to determine the ages of different materials in archeology, geology, geophysics, and other branches of science.
Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.
Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.
Once the organism dies, however, it ceases to absorb carbon-14, so that the amount of the radiocarbon in its tissues steadily decreases.