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14C also enters the Earth's oceans in an atmospheric exchange and as dissolved carbonate (the entire 14C inventory is termed the carbon exchange reservoir (Aitken, 1990)).

Plants and animals which utilise carbon in biological foodchains take up 14C during their lifetimes.

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Today, there are over 130 radiocarbon dating laboratories around the world producing radiocarbon assays for the scientific community.

There is a useful diagrammatic representation of this process given here Libby, Anderson and Arnold (1949) were the first to measure the rate of this decay.

They found that after 5568 years, half the C14 in the original sample will have decayed and after another 5568 years, half of that remaining material will have decayed, and so on (see figure 1 below).

Desmond Clark (1979) wrote that were it not for radiocarbon dating, "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation" (Clark, 1979:7).

Writing of the European Upper Palaeolithic, Movius (1960) concluded that "time alone is the lens that can throw it into focus".

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  1. Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses 14 C to determine the age of carbonaceous materials up to about 60,000 years old.

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