Radiocarbon dating is accurate to about how many years ago

The Lamont-Doherty scientists conducted their analyses on samples of coral drilled from a reef off the island of Barbados.The samples represented animals that lived at various times during the last 30,000 years. Alan Zindler, a professor of geology at Columbia University who is a member of the Lamont-Doherty research group, said age estimates using the carbon dating and uranium-thorium dating differed only slightly for the period from 9,000 years ago to the present.Carbon 14 is thought to be mainly a product of bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays, so cosmic ray intensity would affect the amount of carbon 14 in the environment at any given time.#30,000-Year Limit The Lamont-Doherty group says uranium-thorium dating not only is more precise than carbon dating in some cases, but also can be used to date much older objects.In principle, any material of plant or animal origin, including textiles, wood, bones and leather, can be dated by its content of carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon in the environment that is incorporated by all living things.

But it is already clear that the carbon method of dating will have to be recalibrated and corrected in some cases.The half-life of an isotope like C14 is the time it takes for half of it to decay away: in C14, every 5,730 years, half of it is gone.So, if you measure the amount of C14 in a dead organism, you can figure out how long ago it stopped exchanging carbon with its atmosphere.All living things exchange the gas Carbon 14 (C14) with the atmosphere around them—animals and plants exchange Carbon 14 with the atmosphere, fish and corals exchange carbon with dissolved C14 in the water.Throughout the life of an animal or plant, the amount of C14 is perfectly balanced with that of its surroundings. The C14 in a dead organism slowly decays at a known rate: its "half life".

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''But at earlier times, the carbon dates were substantially younger than the dates we estimated by uranium-thorium analysis,'' he said.

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