Carbon 14 dating the
Studying the material remains of past human life and activities may not seem important or exciting to the average Joe unlike the biological sciences.
But archaeology’s aim to understand mankind is a noble endeavor that goes beyond uncovering buried treasures, gathering information, and dating events.
Back in the 1940s, the American chemist Willard Libby used this fact to determine the ages of organisms long dead.
Most carbon atoms have six protons and six neutrons in their nuclei and are called carbon 12. But a tiny percentage of carbon is made of carbon 14, or radiocarbon, which has six protons and eight neutrons and is not stable: half of any sample of it decays into other atoms after 5,700 years.
Carbon-14 is one form of radiometric test, but one very important feature distinguishes it from the others.
These rays strike nitrogen-14, found in high levels in the atmosphere, and transform this into carbon-14, a radioactive substance.
However, radioisotope dating may not work so well in the future.
Anything that dies after the 1940s, when Nuclear bombs, nuclear reactors and open-air nuclear tests started changing things, will be harder to date precisely.
In living organisms, which are always taking in carbon, the levels of carbon 14 likewise stay constant.
But in a dead organism, no new carbon is coming in, and its carbon 14 gradually begins to decay.
History, anthropology, and archaeology are three distinct but closely related bodies of knowledge that tell man of his present by virtue of his past.