Historical artefacts like moa bones can be dated using a technique that measures the activity of the radioisotope carbon still present in the sample. By comparing this with a modern standard, an estimate of the calendar age of the artefact can be made. To use this interactive, move your mouse or finger over any of the labelled boxes and click to obtain more information. Amongst the artefacts that have been found are ancient moa bones. Some of these have been sent to the Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory for analysis. Once they know that there is sufficient protein remaining, they clean the surface of the bone to remove contaminants like dirt, charcoal or, in some cases, glue that the archaeologists have used to mend the bone fragments.
What is Carbon Dating?
Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work?
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What is Carbon Dating? - Definition & Overview
Carbon is one of the chemical elements. Along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, carbon is a building block of biochemical molecules ranging from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to active substances such as hormones. All carbon atoms have a nucleus containing six protons.
Despite the name, it does not give an absolute date of organic material - but an approximate age, usually within a range of a few years either way. There are three carbon isotopes that occur as part of the Earth's natural processes; these are carbon, carbon and carbon The unstable nature of carbon 14 with a precise half-life that makes it easy to measure means it is ideal as an absolute dating method.