Various geologic, atmospheric and solar processes can influence atmospheric carbon-14 levels.Since the 1960s, scientists have started accounting for the variations by calibrating the clock against the known ages of tree rings.The clock was initially calibrated by dating objects of known age such as Egyptian mummies and bread from Pompeii; work that won Willard Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.But even he “realized that there probably would be variation”, says Christopher Bronk Ramsey, a geochronologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the latest work, published today in Science.Marine records, such as corals, have been used to push farther back in time, but these are less robust because levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere and the ocean are not identical and tend shift with changes in ocean circulation.Bronk Ramsey’s team aimed to fill this gap by using sediment from bed of Lake Suigetsu, west of Tokyo.
The procedure of radiocarbon dating can be used for remains that are up to 50,000 years old.16 feet under: finding a matched set of whitetail sheds can be tough enough when they're lying on top of the ground.
The technique hinges on carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of the element that, unlike other more stable forms of carbon, decays away at a steady rate.
Organisms capture a certain amount of carbon-14 from the atmosphere when they are alive.
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