Free 5-day trial Ever wondered how scientists know the age of old bones in an ancient site or how old a scrap of linen is?The technique used is called carbon dating and in this lesson we will learn what this is and how it is used. Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. In the late 1940s, an American physical chemist named Willard Libby first developed a method to measure radioactivity of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope.
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At high geomagnetic latitudes, the carbon-14 spreads evenly throughout the atmosphere and reacts with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide also permeates the oceans, dissolving in the water.
This technique works well for materials up to around 50,000 years old.
Each radioactive isotope decays by a fixed amount, and this amount is called the half-life.
The amount of carbon-14 gradually decreases through radioactive beta decay with a half-life of 5,730 years.