The impact of the radiocarbon dating technique on modern man has made it one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.
Radiocarbon, or carbon 14, is an isotope of the element carbon that is unstable and weakly radioactive. Carbon 14 is continually being formed in the upper atmosphere by the effect of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen 14 atoms.It is rapidly oxidized in air to form carbon dioxide and enters the global carbon cycle.Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.Over the years, carbon 14 dating has also found applications in geology, hydrology, geophysics, atmospheric science, oceanography, paleoclimatology, and even biomedicine.
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. 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.