Try It risk-free Ever wondered how scientists know the age of old bones in an ancient site or how old a scrap of linen is?The technique used is called carbon dating, and in this lesson we will learn what this is and how it is used. Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. In the late 1940s, an American physical chemist named Willard Libby first developed a method to measure radioactivity of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope.

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Libby calculated the half-life of carbon-14 as 5568, a figure now known as the Libby half-life.

Following a conference at the University of Cambridge in 1962, a more accurate figure of 5730 years was agreed upon and this figure is now known as the Cambridge half-life.

However, once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 steadily decreases.

By measuring the amount of carbon-14 left in the organism, it's possible to work out how old it is.

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At high geomagnetic latitudes, the carbon-14 spreads evenly throughout the atmosphere and reacts with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide also permeates the oceans, dissolving in the water.

This technique works well for materials up to around 50,000 years old.