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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.
Most samples require chemical pre-treatment to ensure their purity or to recover particular components of the material.
The objective of pre-treatment is to ensure that the carbon being analyzed is native to the sample submitted for dating.
This discovery meant that there are three naturally occurring isotopes of carbon: Whereas carbon-12 and carbon-13 are stable isotopes, carbon-14 is unstable or radioactive.
Carbon-14 is produced in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays bombard nitrogen atoms.
We hope it will be of occasional use to radiocarbon users and interested students alike.
This means that half of the c14 has decayed by the time an organism has been dead for 5568 years, and half of the remainder has decayed by 11,136 years after death, etc.
Since carbon is fundamental to life, occurring along with hydrogen in all organic compounds, the detection of such an isotope might form the basis for a method to establish the age of ancient materials.
Libby, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago, predicted that a radioactive isotope of carbon, known as carbon-14, would be found to occur in nature.
Radiocarbon dating is the technique upon which chronologies of the late Pleistocene and Holocene have been built.
This resource is designed to provide online information concerning the radiocarbon dating method.