American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity.
He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample. Libby who first measured radiocarbon’s rate of decay and established 5568 years ± 30 years as the half-life. Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his efforts to develop radiocarbon dating.
Radiocarbon, or carbon 14, is an isotope of the element carbon that is unstable and weakly radioactive. Carbon 14 is continually being formed in the upper atmosphere by the effect of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen 14 atoms.
No other scientific method has managed to revolutionize man’s understanding not only of his present but also of events that already happened thousands of years ago.
Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.
Over the years, carbon 14 dating has also found applications in geology, hydrology, geophysics, atmospheric science, oceanography, paleoclimatology, and even biomedicine.
What methods do they use and how do these methods work?
In this article, we will examine the methods by which scientists use radioactivity to determine the age of objects, most notably carbon-14 dating.
Carbon-14 dating is a way of determining the age of certain archeological artifacts of a biological origin up to about 50,000 years old.
It is used in dating things such as bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers that were created in the relatively recent past by human activities.
You probably have seen or read news stories about fascinating ancient artifacts.
At an archaeological dig, a piece of wooden tool is unearthed and the archaeologist finds it to be 5,000 years old.
A child mummy is found high in the Andes and the archaeologist says the child lived more than 2,000 years ago.
How do scientists know how old an object or human remains are?