Radioactive dating in archaeology

Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The total mass of the isotope is indicated by the numerical superscript.

While the lighter isotopes C has decayed that what remains can no longer be measured. In 5,730 years half of the C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.

Along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, carbon is a building block of biochemical molecules ranging from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to active substances such as hormones.

All carbon atoms have a nucleus containing six protons.

Isotopes participate in the same chemical reactions but often at differing rates.

When isotopes are to be designated specifically, the chemical symbol is expanded to identify the mass (for example, C is not stable.

Carbon-14 is most abundant in atmospheric carbon dioxide because it is constantly being produced by collisions between nitrogen atoms and cosmic rays at the upper limits of the atmosphere.We can compare the oxygen isotopes ratio in teeth with that of drinking water from different regions and determine where a person might have lived, at the time their teeth formed.Oxygen isotope analysis of dental enamel from the two burials at Amesbury indicate that the “Archer” came from a colder climate region than we find in Britain today, possibly from some where in central Europe - the dark blue-green area in the oxygen isotope map.For our purposes we are interested in the ratio of heavy (oxygen 18) to light (oxygen 16) isotopes.Drinking water in warm climates has more heavy isotopes (higher ratio) and in cold climates has more light isotopes (lower ratio).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.


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