Before radiometric dating

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Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.This means that although they are very similar chemically, they have different masses.These new techniques can have a dramatic effect on chronologies.With the development of a new method of cleaning charcoal called ABOx-SC, Michael Bird helped to push back the date of arrival of the first humans in Australia by more than 10,000 years.

The calibrated date is our “best estimate” of the sample’s actual age, but we need to be able to return to old dates and recalibrate them because new research is continually used to update the calibration curve.If 1% of the carbon in a 50,000 year old sample is from a modern contaminant, the sample will be dated to around 40,000 years.Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.In addition, samples need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove carbon contamination from glues and soil before dating.This is particularly important for very old samples.Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.

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