Radiocarbon dating range

The radiocarbon method is based on the rate of decay of the radioactive or unstable carbon isotope 14 (14C), which is formed in the upper atmosphere through the effect of cosmic ray neutrons upon nitrogen 14.The reaction is: (Where n is a neutron and p is a proton).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".The 14C formed is rapidly oxidised to 14CO2 and enters the earth's plant and animal lifeways through photosynthesis and the food chain.

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The decay can be shown: Thus, the 14C decays back to 14N.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.Libby and his team intially tested the radiocarbon method on samples from prehistoric Egypt.They chose samples whose age could be independently determined.

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