Friday, January 26, 2007

Carbon Dating for Dummies

For those of you curious as to how scientists figure out the age of ancient artifacts and skeletons, I have put together a simple little article on why carbon dating works.

Carbon comes in two stable non-radioactive isotopes (meaning that it won't radioactively decay) Carbon-12 and Carbon-13. There are many other Carbon isotopes, but the one we want to look at is called Carbon-14. Carbon-14 is produced as a reaction to cosmic rays in the Earths atmosphere. This means that small amounts of Carbon-14 are present in your body whenever you breathe in, or eat. Carbon-14 unlike Carbon-12 or 13 is unstable and slowly decays into Nitrogen-14 over the course of thousands of years. Now you ask, how is this related to Carbon Dating?

I'll tell you.

Carbon-14 is not naturally present in your body. It only comes in when you breathe or eat. So when you die, you stop intaking Carbon-14. Now when scientists dig up your remains thousands of years later, they can measure the amount of decay of the Carbon-14, and if you have died within the last 60,000 years they can determine the exact time at which you died.

There you go, carbon dating for dummies.

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