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It is clear that carbon-14 dates lack the accuracy that traditional historians would like to have.
There may come a time when all radiocarbon ages rest on firmer knowledge of the sample’s original carbon-14 level than is now available.
It is now clear that carbon-14 is not homogeneously distributed among today’s plants and animals.
The occasional exceptions all involve nonatmospheric contributions of carbon-14-depleted carbon dioxide to organic synthesis.
Since Libby’s foundational studies, tens of thousands of carbon-14 measurements of natural materials have been made.
Expressed as a fraction of the contemporary level, they have been mathematically converted to ages through Improvements in measurement accuracy and the ever-mounting experience in applying carbon-14 dating have provided superior and more voluminous data with which to better answer Libby’s original questions.
Of more recent date was the overcompensating effect of man-made carbon-14 injected into the atmosphere during nuclear bomb testing.
His success initiated a series of measurements designed to answer two questions: Is the concentration of carbon-14 uniform throughout the plant and animal kingdoms?Until then, the inherent error from this uncertainty must be recognized.A final problem of importance in carbon-14 dating is the matter of sample contamination.Newly created carbon-14 atoms were presumed to react with atmospheric oxygen to form ) molecules.Radioactive carbon thus was visualized as gaining entrance wherever atmospheric carbon dioxide enters—into land plants by photosynthesis, into animals that feed on the plants, into marine and fresh waters as a dissolved component, and from there into aquatic plants and animals.