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How do scientists know how old an object or human remains are?
What methods do they use and how do these methods work?
There's a small amount of radioactive carbon-14 in all living organisms.
When they die no new carbon-14 is taken in by the dead organism.
In this article, we will examine the methods by which scientists use radioactivity to determine the age of objects, most notably carbon-14 dating.
Carbon-14 dating is a way of determining the age of certain archeological artifacts of a biological origin up to about 50,000 years old.
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 continually being created in the Earth's atmosphere by the interaction of nitrogen and gamma rays from outer space.
By measuring the amount of carbon-14 left in dead organic material the approximate time since it died can be worked out.
The results showed that Ötzi died over 5000 years ago, sometime between 33 BC. Uranium has a very long half-life and so by measuring how much uranium is left in a rock its approximate age can be worked out.
You probably have seen or read news stories about fascinating ancient artifacts.
No other scientific method has managed to revolutionize man’s understanding not only of his present but also of events that already happened thousands of years ago.
Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.
The procedure of radiocarbon dating can be used for remains that are up to 50,000 years old.