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Jump to navigation. By developing new ways to use radiocarbon in tree rings, a UA dendrochronologist builds on the legacies of scientists before her, including the famed polymath Andrew Douglass. For decades, radiocarbon dating has been a way for scientists to get a rough picture of when once-living stuff lived. Pearson is an assistant professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona who studies the past lives of trees to better understand the history of civilizations. Dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating have intertwined histories, she explains, with roots firmly planted at the UA. Douglass was a polymath.
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Radiocarbon Dating - Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Uses of Radiocarbon Dating Climate science required the invention and mastery of many difficult techniques. These had pitfalls, which could lead to controversy. An example of the ingenious technical work and hard-fought debates underlying the main story is the use of radioactive carbon to assign dates to the distant past. The prodigious mobilization of science that produced nuclear weapons was so far-reaching that it revolutionized even the study of ancient climates. The radioactive isotope carbon is created in the upper atmosphere when cosmic-ray particles from outer space strike nitrogen atoms and transform them into radioactive carbon. Some of the carbon might find its way into living creatures. After a creature's death the isotope would slowly decay away over millennia at a fixed rate.
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Radiocarbon dating

Seventy years ago, American chemist Willard Libby devised an ingenious method for dating organic materials. His technique, known as carbon dating, revolutionized the field of archaeology. Now researchers could accurately calculate the age of any object made of organic materials by observing how much of a certain form of carbon remained, and then calculating backwards to determine when the plant or animal that the material came from had died. An isotope is a form of an element with a certain number of neutrons, which are the subatomic particles found in the nucleus of an atom that have no charge. While the number of protons and electrons in an atom determine what element it is, the number of neutrons can vary widely between different atoms of the same element.
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Radiocarbon dating: radioactive carbon decays to nitrogen with a half-life of years. In dead material, the decayed 14C is not replaced and its concentration in the object decreases slowly. To obtain a truly absolute chronology, corrections must be made, provided by measurements on samples of know age. The most suitable types of sample for radiocarbon dating are charcoal and well-preserved wood, although leather, cloth, paper, peat, shell and bone can also be used. Because of the somewhat short half-life of 14C, radiocarbon dating is not applicable to samples with ages greater than about 50, years, because the remaining concentration would be too small for accurate measurement.
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