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Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50,000 years.
Thus, as living things take in carbon, they inevitably will take up a small amount of radioactive carbon into their bodies.
When these lifeforms die, they stop taking in new carbon.
In the early years of radiocarbon dating a product’s decay was measured, but this required huge samples (e.g. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS), a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual C atoms in a sample.Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured.If 1% of the carbon in a 50,000 year old sample is from a modern contaminant, the sample will be dated to around 40,000 years.
Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.Radioactive decay can be used as a “clock” because it is unaffected by physical (e.g. For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth.