Limitations of carbon dating

Plankton absorbs, Carbon-14 from the ocean much like terrestrial plants absorb Carbon-14 from the air.

Since plankton is the foundation of the marine food chain, Carbon-14 is spread throughout aquatic life.

Radiocarbon is then taken in by plants through photosynthesis, and these plants in turn are consumed by all the organisms on the planet.

There are two techniques for dating in archaeological sites: relative and absolute dating.

Relative dating stems from the idea that something is younger or older relative to something else.

In fact, levels of Carbon-14 have varied in the atmosphere through time.

One good example would be the elevated levels of Carbon-14 in our atmosphere since WWII as a result of atomic bombs testing.

Absolute dating represents the absolute age of the sample before the present.

Historical documents and calendars can be used to find such absolute dates; however, when working in a site without such documents, it is hard for absolute dates to be determined.

Therefore, radiocarbon dates need to be calibrated with other dating techniques to ensure accuracy.

Plants are not the only organism that can process Carbon-14 from the air.

The extra neutrons in Carbon-14’s case make it radioactive (thus the term, radiocarbon).

Radiocarbon is produced in the upper atmosphere after Nitrogen-14 isotopes have been impacted by cosmic radiation.

Limitations and calibration: When Libby was first determining radiocarbon dates, he found that before 1000 BC his dates were earlier than calendar dates.

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