Nitrogen dating archaeology

During the lifetime of an organism, the amount of c14 in the tissues remains at an equilibrium since the loss (through radioactive decay) is balanced by the gain (through uptake via photosynthesis or consumption of organically fixed carbon).

However, when the organism dies, the amount of c14 declines such that the longer the time since death the lower the levels of c14 in organic tissue.

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The objective of pre-treatment is to ensure that the carbon being analyzed is native to the sample submitted for dating.

The diminishing levels via decay means that the effective limit for using c14 to estimate time is about 50,000 years. Subsequent work has shown that the half-life of radiocarbon is actually 5730 ± 40 years, a difference of 3% compared to the Libby half-life.

However, to avoid confusion all radiocarbon laboratories continue to use the half-life calculated by Libby, sometimes rounding it to 5570 years.

Bases may be used to remove contaminating humic acids.

Some types of samples require more extensive pre-treatment than others, and these methods have evolved over the first 50 years of radiocarbon dating.

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