From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).
A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve.
The carbon-14 method was developed by the American physicist Willard F. It has proved to be a versatile technique of dating fossils and archaeological specimens from 500 to 50,000 years old.
The method is widely used by Pleistocene geologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and investigators in related fields.
Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.Carbon-14 is continually formed in nature by the interaction of neutrons with nitrogen-14 in the Earth’s atmosphere; the neutrons required for this reaction are produced by cosmic rays interacting with the atmosphere.Radiocarbon present in molecules of atmospheric carbon dioxide enters the biological carbon cycle: it is absorbed from the air by green plants and then passed on to animals through the food chain.Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.The total mass of the isotope is indicated by the numerical superscript.While the lighter isotopes C has decayed that what remains can no longer be measured. In 5,730 years half of the C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.The calibrated date is also presented, either in BC or AD or with the unit cal BP (calibrated before present - before 1950).The calibrated date is our “best estimate” of the sample’s actual age, but we need to be able to return to old dates and recalibrate them because new research is continually used to update the calibration curve.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.