Methods of radiocarbon dating

The method does not count beta particles but the number of carbon atoms present in the sample and the proportion of the isotopes. Samples that have been radiocarbon dated since the inception of the method include charcoal, wood, twigs, seeds, bones, shells, leather, peat, lake mud, soil, hair, pottery, pollen, wall paintings, corals, blood residues, fabrics, paper or parchment, resins, and water, among others.

Physical and chemical pretreatments are done on these materials to remove possible contaminants before they are analyzed for their radiocarbon content.

By knowing how much carbon 14 is left in a sample, the age of the organism when it died can be known.

It must be noted though that radiocarbon dating results indicate when the organism was alive but not when a material from that organism was used.

Standard errors are also reported in a radiocarbon dating result, hence the “±” values.

These values have been derived through statistical means.

When the stocks of Oxalic Acid I were almost fully consumed, another standard was made from a crop of 1977 French beet molasses.

The new standard, Oxalic Acid II, was proven to have only a slight difference with Oxalic Acid I in terms of radiocarbon content.

Radiocarbon activity of materials in the background is also determined to remove its contribution from results obtained during a sample analysis.

There are three principal techniques used to measure carbon 14 content of any given sample— gas proportional counting, liquid scintillation counting, and accelerator mass spectrometry.

Gas proportional counting is a conventional radiometric dating technique that counts the beta particles emitted by a given sample. In this method, the carbon sample is first converted to carbon dioxide gas before measurement in gas proportional counters takes place.

Liquid scintillation counting is another radiocarbon dating technique that was popular in the 1960s.

In this method, the sample is in liquid form and a scintillator is added.

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