Carbon dating was used routinely from the 1950s onward, and it confirmed the age of these historical remains.
Radiocarbon dating is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere; in other words, things that were living.
Radioactive carbon-14 is continually formed in the atmosphere by the bombardment of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen-14 atoms.
14 carbon dating
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Once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 reduces by the fixed half-life - or the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay - of 5,730 years, and can be measured by scientists for up to 10 half-lives.
Measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 remaining makes it possible to work out how old the artifact is, whether it's a fossilized skeleton or a magnificent piece of artwork.
For the record, a beta-particle is a specific type of nuclear decay. Image 1 shows carbon-14 production by high energy neutrons hitting nitrogen-14 atoms, while in Image 2, carbon-14 naturally decomposes through beta-particle production.
Notice that the nitrogen-14 atom is recreated and goes back into the cycle.
The half-life is always the same regardless of how many nuclei you have left, and this very useful property lies at the heart of radiocarbon dating. The graph below shows the decay curve (you may recognize it as an exponential decay) and it shows the amount, or percent, of carbon-14 remaining.
You will notice that after around 40,000 years (or 8 half-lives), the amount left is starting to become very small, less than 1%.
Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in 1960.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contains a constant amount of carbon-14, and as long as an organism is living, the amount of carbon-14 inside it is the same as the atmosphere.
It is often used on valuable artwork to confirm authenticity.