Carbon 14 dating debate
Constants and Change There are other limitations in carbon dating too.
For example, with a few exceptions, the technique can only be applied to once-living items such as bone, leather, wood, and cloth—not, say, rocks or metal.
For example, if a sample emits radiation indicating the presence of 10 carbon-14 atoms and we know from its mass that it originally must have contained 20, that means the plant or animal from which the sample was taken died about 5,730 years ago.
So I did a bit of research to fill in the gaps in my understanding, and not surprisingly I found the details to be quite interesting.
When an organism dies, it stops acquiring new carbon-14 atoms.
Given that the ratio of carbon-14 atoms to carbon-12 atoms in a living thing is a constant, one can determine the number of each in a sample of organic matter (using sensitive equipment to detect the amount of radiation remaining), and then do a little bit of math to determine how long it’s been since the organism expired.
More importantly, though, the accuracy of carbon dating rests on several crucial assumptions.
For one thing, the rate of carbon-14 production in the atmosphere (and thus the level of cosmic ray activity) must have been pretty much constant for the past several dozen millennia.