Why is carbon used for dating fossils

Scientists are now able to make age determinations from much smaller samples and to make them much more rapidly than by radioactive counting, but carbon proved to be a considerably more difficult problem for instrumental development than the other cosmogenic isotopes.

Applications use in archaeology In archaeology: Dating art forgery detection In forgery: Detection of forgeries in the visual arts biology In biology: The emergence of Mesopotamian civilization radiometric dating In Holocene Epoch: Chronology and correlation View More. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.

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Dating Sedimentary Rock - How Do Scientists Determine the Age of Dinosaur Bones? | HowStuffWorks

Internet URLs are the best. Thank You for Your Contribution! There was a problem with your submission. Nuclear tests, nuclear reactors and the use of nuclear weapons have also changed the composition of radioisotopes in the air over the last few decades. This human nuclear activity will make precise dating of fossils from our lifetime very difficult due to contamination of the normal radioisotope composition of the earth with addition artificially produced radioactive atoms. The various confounding factors that can adversely affect the accuracy of carbon dating methods are evident in many of the other radioisotope dating methods.

Although the half-life of some of them are more consistent with the evolutionary worldview of millions to billions of years, the assumptions used in radiometric dating put the results of all radiometric dating methods in doubt. The following is an article on this subject. Although the half-life of carbon makes it unreliable for dating fossils over about 50, years old, there are other isotopes scientists use to date older artifacts.

How Does Carbon Dating Work

These isotopes have longer half-lives and so are found in greater abundance in older fossils. All of these methods are accurate only back to the last global catastrophe i. The assumptions are similar to the assumptions used in carbon dating. The mathematical premise undergirding the use of these elements in radiometric dating contains the similar confounding factors that we find in carbon dating method.


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Most scientists today believe that life has existed on the earth for billions of years. This belief in long ages for the earth and the evolution of all life is based entirely on the hypothetical and non-empirical Theory of Evolution.


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All dating methods that support this theory are embraced, while any evidence to the contrary, e. Prior to radiometric dating, evolution scientists used index fossils a. A paleontologist would take the discovered fossil to a geologist who would ask the paleontologist what other fossils searching for an index fossil were found near their discovery. If it sounds like circular reasoning, it is because this process in reality is based upon circular reasoning.

The process of using index fossils is describes by the late Creationist author and Ph. Henry Morris as follows:.

All radiometric dating methods use this basic principle to extrapolate the age of artifacts being tested. These long time periods are computed by measuring the ratio of daughter to parent substance in a rock, and inferring an age based on this ratio.

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This age is computed under the assumption that the parent substance say, uranium gradually decays to the daughter substance say, lead , so the higher the ratio of lead to uranium, the older the rock must be. While there are many problems with such dating methods, such as parent or daughter substances entering or leaving the rock, e. Geologists assert that generally speaking, older dates are found deeper down in the geologic column, which they take as evidence that radiometric dating is giving true ages, since it is apparent that rocks that are deeper must be older.

But even if it is true that older radiometric dates are found lower down in the geologic column which is open to question , this can potentially be explained by processes occurring in magma chambers which cause the lava erupting earlier to appear older than the lava erupting later. Lava erupting earlier would come from the top of the magma chamber, and lava erupting later would come from lower down.

A number of processes could cause the parent substance to be depleted at the top of the magma chamber, or the daughter product to be enriched, both of which would cause the lava erupting earlier to appear very old according to radiometric dating, and lava erupting later to appear younger. Other possible confounding variables are the mechanisms that can alter daughter-to-parent ratios. We can see that many varieties of minerals are produced from the same magma by the different processes of crystallization, and these different minerals may have very different compositions.

It is possible that the ratio of daughter to parent substances for radiometric dating could differ in the different minerals.

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Not all materials can be radiocarbon dated. Most, if not all, organic compounds can be dated. 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.


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The radiocarbon age of a certain sample of unknown age can be determined by measuring its carbon 14 content and comparing the result to the carbon 14 activity in modern and background samples. The principal modern standard used by radiocarbon dating labs was the Oxalic Acid I obtained from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland. This oxalic acid came from sugar beets in When the stocks of Oxalic Acid I were almost fully consumed, another standard was made from a crop of French beet molasses.

Over the years, other secondary radiocarbon standards have been made. Radiocarbon activity of materials in the background is also determined to remove its contribution from results obtained during a sample analysis. Background samples analyzed are usually geological in origin of infinite age such as coal, lignite, and limestone. A radiocarbon measurement is termed a conventional radiocarbon age CRA.

The CRA conventions include a usage of the Libby half-life, b usage of Oxalic Acid I or II or any appropriate secondary standard as the modern radiocarbon standard, c correction for sample isotopic fractionation to a normalized or base value of These values have been derived through statistical means. American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity.

How Do Paleontologists Date Fossils? - Secrets of the Underground

He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample.

It was also Mr.