Carbon dating charcoal bone

However, there are a number of other factors that can affect the amount of carbon present in a sample and how that information is interpreted by archaeologists.

Thus a great deal of care is taken in securing and processing samples and multiple samples are often required if we want to be confident about assigning a date to a site, feature, or artifact (read more about the radiocarbon dating technique at:

Professor of Archaeological Science and Deputy Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit Tom Higham explains the science behind radiocarbon dating and how he has refined this dating technique for archaeological research on ancient bones.

In this video, Tom says, “Radiocarbon has a half-life of 5,568 years”, yet in other places on the Science Learning Hub, we refer to radiocarbon as having a half-life of 5,730 years (this is known as the ' Cambridge half-life'). Basically, calculating radiocarbon ages requires the value of the half-life for carbon-14.

In contrast to relative dating techniques whereby artifacts were simply designated as "older" or "younger" than other cultural remains based on the presence of fossils or stratigraphic position, 14C dating provided an easy and increasingly accessible way for archaeologists to construct chronologies of human behavior and examine temporal changes through time at a finer scale than what had previously been possible.

The surrounding environment can also influence radiocarbon ages.

So for those of you that know a little bit about it, radiocarbon has a half-life of 5,568 years.

That means that, every 5,568 years, half the radioactive carbon in the bone, or the charcoal that we find in an archaeological site, has decayed back to its parent isotope, nitrogen-14.

So basically 10 half-lives is the limit of any radioisotopic dating method.

So when you get down to 30,000 years ago, you’ve got about 3% of the amount of radiocarbon that you’ve got in the present day, just 3%.

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The Radiocarbon Revolution Since its development by Willard Libby in the 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become one of the most essential tools in archaeology.

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