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Libby and coworkers, and it has provided a way to determine the ages of different materials in archeology, geology, geophysics, and other branches of science.

Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.

Conversely, contamination by newer plant matter carried by flowing water or intruding plant roots may result in a date that is much too young. The original technique was based on counting the number of individual radioactive decay events per unit of time, using a device similar to a Geiger counter.

Archaeologists are acutely aware of these and other potential difficulties, and take extreme care in the selection and handling of objects to be dated. In the 1970s a new technique was developed called Accelerator-based Mass Spectrometry (AMS), which counts the number of carbon-14 atoms directly.

As you learned in the previous page, carbon dating uses the half-life of Carbon-14 to find the approximate age of certain objects that are 40,000 years old or younger.

In the following section we are going to go more in-depth about carbon dating in order to help you get a better understanding of how it works.

Radiocarbon dating is therefore limited to objects that are younger than 50,000 to 60,000 years or so.

In this way, calibration tables have been developed that eliminate the discrepancy.

Despite its usefulness, radiocarbon dating has a number of limitations.

(Since humans have only existed in the Americas for approximately 12,000 years, this is not a serious limitation to southwest archaeology.) Radiocarbon dating is also susceptible to contamination.

If the ground in which an object is buried contains particles of coal or other ancient sources of carbon, radiocarbon testing may indicate that the object is far older than it really is.

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Thus carbon-14 has six protons and eight neutrons.) Carbon-12 is by far the most abundant carbon isotope, and carbon-12 and -13 are both stable.

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