Radiocarbon dating process

Fiona is wearing an aspirator because of the carcinogenic properties of benzene.Special silica glass vials are used to contain the mixture of benzene and PBD.Historical artefacts like moa bones can be dated using a technique that measures the activity of the radioisotope carbon-14 still present in the sample.By comparing this with a modern standard, an estimate of the calendar age of the artefact can be made.Once the organism dies, however, it ceases to absorb carbon-14, so that the amount of the radiocarbon in its tissues steadily decreases.Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years—, half the amount of the radioisotope present at any given time will undergo spontaneous disintegration during the succeeding 5,730 years.Learn more about Tom’s work on refining radiocarbon dating and how science is advancing our understanding of human evolution through the Palaeolithic period.

The Wairau Bar in Blenheim is one of the oldest archaeological sites in New Zealand.The silica glass vials are loaded into the liquid scintillation spectrometer.The C-14 atoms present in the benzene decay at a certain rate.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.Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.Professor Tom Higham is director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at Oxford University and Principal Investigator for the Palaeo Chron Project.

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