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. The other two isotopes in comparison are more common than carbon in the atmosphere but increase with the burning of fossil fuels making them less reliable for study 2 ; carbon also increases, but its relative rarity means its increase is negligible. The half-life of the 14 C isotope is 5, years, adjusted from 5, years originally calculated in the s; the upper limit of dating is in the region of , years, after which the amount of 14 C is negligible 3. After this point, other Absolute Dating methods may be used.
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Radiocarbon, or Carbon, dating is probably one of the most widely used and best known absolute dating methods. It was developed by J. Arnold and W. Libby in , and has become an indispensable part of the archaeologist's tool kit since.
Radiocarbon Dating - Reliable but Misunderstood Dating Technique
Radiocarbon dating of groundwater is used in combination with the primary measurements of classical hydrological and chemical analyses. Radiocarbon dating will produce the best results when it involves multiple measurements or sequential sampling. The most useful data come from these comparisons and not from absolute ages.