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Radiocarbon Dating - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Radiocarbon Dating. Carbon has unique properties that are essential for life on earth. Familiar to us as: the black substance in charred wood, as diamonds, and the graphite in ‘lead’ pencils, Comes in several forms, or isotopes.

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Presentation Transcript
slide2
Carbon has unique properties that are essential for life on earth.
    • Familiar to us as:
    • the black substance in charred wood,
    • as diamonds,
    • and the graphite in ‘lead’ pencils,
    • Comes in several forms, or isotopes.
    • One rare form has atoms that are 14 times as heavy as hydrogen atoms:
slide3

Atomic mass

16

6

14

6

9

6

C

C

C

Atomic number

  • Carbon-14 is also referred to as:
    • C-14
    • Carbon-14
    • Radiocarbon
  • Types of carbon (isotopes)
slide4

14

7

N

14

6

C

What is Radioactive Decay?

  • The proton number (atomic number) must change
  • A neutron changes into a proton
  • The nucleus of an atom changes into a new element
slide5

How C-14 is Produced

1. Carbon-14 is made when cosmic rays knock neutrons out of atomic nuclei in the upper atmosphere.

2. The displaced neutrons, now moving fast, hit ordinary nitrogen (14N) at lower altitudes, converting it into 14C.

slide6

How C-14 is Produced

3. Unlike common carbon (C-12), C-14 is unstable and slowly decays, changing it back to nitrogen and releasing energy.

4. This instability makes it radioactive.

slide7

Cosmic Rays (radiation)

C-14 combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2)

Forms C-14

Collision with atmosphere (N14)

How C-14 is Produced

slide8

Remember…

  • Ordinary carbon (C-12) is found in the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air, which is taken up by plants, which in turn are eaten by animals.
  • A bone, or a leaf or a tree, or even a piece of wooden furniture, contains carbon.
  • When the C-14 has been formed, like ordinary carbon (C-12), it combines with oxygen to give carbon dioxide (14CO2), and so it also gets cycled through the cells of plants and animals.
slide9
We can take a sample of air, count how many C-12 atoms there are for every C-14 atom, and calculate the C-14/C-12 ratio.
  • Because C-14 is so well mixed up with C-12, we expect to find that this ratio is the same if we sample a leaf from a tree, or a part of the body.
slide11

No more C-14 intake

How the Carbon Dating Clock Works

  • Once a plant or animal dies the clock starts
  • The plant or animal no longer takes in C-14
  • The C-14 present in the plant or animal begins to decay

C-14 continues to decay

slide12
In living things, although 14C atoms are constantly changing back to 14N, they are still exchanging carbon with their surroundings, so the mixture remains about the same as in the atmosphere.
  • However, as soon as a plant or animal dies, the 14C atoms which decay are no longer replaced, so the amount of 14C in that once-living thing decreases as time goes on.
  • In other words, the 14C/12C ratio gets smaller.
slide13
So, we have a ‘clock’ which starts ticking the moment something dies.
  • Obviously, this works only for things which were once living.
slide15
The rate of decay of C-14 is such that half of an amount will convert back to N-14 in 5,730 years (plus or minus 40 years).
  • This is the “half-life”.
  • So, in two half-lives, or 11,460 years, only one-quarter will be left.
slide16

14

6

14

7

14

7

C

N

N

5,730 year half-life

Carbon-14 Life Cycle

Cosmic radiation

slide18

Thus,

  • If the amount of 14C relative to 12C in a sample is one-quarter of that in living organisms at present, then it has a theoretical age of 11,460 years.
  • Anything over about 50,000 years old, should theoretically have no detectable C-14 left.
  • That is why radiocarbon dating cannot give millions of years.
  • In fact, if a sample contains C-14, it is good evidence that it is not millions of years old.
slide19
Measurement of C-14 in historically dated objects (e.g., seeds in the graves of historically dated tombs) enables the level of C-14 in the atmosphere at that time to be estimated, and so partial calibration of the ‘clock’ is possible.
  • Accordingly, carbon dating carefully applied to items from historical times can be useful.
slide20
However, even with such historical calibration, archaeologists do not regard C-14 dates as absolute because of frequent anomalies.
  • They rely more on dating methods that link into historical records.
  • Outside the range of recorded history, calibration of the C-14 clock is not possible.
slide21

Carbon-14 Dating

  • Used only on organic material
  • Cannot be used to date rocks
  • Maximum age limit about 60,000 years