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Radiocarbon dating

Facts for Prelims (FFP)


Source: TH 

Context: Radiocarbon dating is a scientific method that utilizes the isotope carbon-14 to determine the age of organic materials.

  • Carbon-14 is created in the Earth’s atmosphere when cosmic rays interact with nitrogen-14 atoms, producing carbon-14.
  • This isotope enters the food chain through plants, animals, and other biomass.


How Radiocarbon Dating works:

  • The process involves measuring the remaining amount of carbon-14 in an organic sample.
  • While the organism is alive, it constantly exchanges carbon with its surroundings.
  • When it dies, this exchange stops, and the concentration of carbon-14 in the body decreases over time due to radioactive decay.
  • By measuring the remaining carbon-14, scientists can estimate the time since the organism’s death.


The advent of radiocarbon dating is considered a revolution in archaeology and geology, providing an objective and numerical dating method for organic remains.