Scientists rely on a method called radiocarbon dating to determine the age of fossils or artifacts. With little or no other information available, the widely used method can accurately determine how old a sample is. This makes it one of the most powerful tools archaeologists, anthropologists and paleontologists have at their disposal. Rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are, however, artificially aging the atmosphere and this might drastically interfere with the accuracy of radiocarbon dating.
Radiocarbon dating also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon , a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby , who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in It is based on the fact that radiocarbon 14 C is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14 C combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide , which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis ; animals then acquire 14 C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and from that point onwards the amount of 14 C it contains begins to decrease as the 14 C undergoes radioactive decay.
Because 14 C is radioactive , it decays over time—in other words, older artifacts have less 14 C than younger ones. During this process, an atom of 14 C decays into an atom of 14 N, during which one of the neutrons in the carbon atom becomes a proton. This increases the number of protons in the atom by one, creating a nitrogen atom rather than a carbon atom. An electron and an elementary particle, called an antineutrino, are also generated during this process.
At a very steady rate, unstable carbon gradually decays to carbon This isotope lets scientists learn the ages of once-living things. Radiocarbon dating is a technique used by scientists to learn the ages of biological specimens — for example, wooden archaeological artifacts or ancient human remains — from the distant past. It can be used on objects as old as about 62, years. An isotope is what scientists call two or more forms of the same element.