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So, if we find the remains of a dead creature whose C-12 to C-14 ratio is half of what it's supposed to be (that is, one C-14 atom for every two trillion C-12 atoms instead of one in every trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for about 5,730 years (since half of the radiocarbon is missing, it takes about 5,730 years for half of it to decay back into nitrogen).If the ratio is a quarter of what it should be (one in every four trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for 11,460 year (two half-lives).Plants and animals naturally incorporate both the abundant C-12 isotope and the much rarer radiocarbon isotope into their tissues in about the same proportions as the two occur in the atmosphere during their lifetimes.When a creature dies, it ceases to consume more radiocarbon while the C-14 already in its body continues to decay back into nitrogen.­ ­You probably have seen or read news stories about fascinating ancient artifacts.At an ar­chaeological dig, a piece of wooden tool is unearthed and the archaeologist finds it to be 5,000 years old.

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We must also assume that the ratio of C-12 to C-14 in the atmosphere has remained constant throughout the unobservable past (so we can know what the ratio was at the time of the specimen's death).First of all, it's predicated upon a set of questionable assumptions.We have to assume, for example, that the rate of decay (that is, a 5,730 year half-life) has remained constant throughout the unobservable past.Specimens which lived and died during a period of intense volcanism would appear older than they really are if they were dated using this technique.The ratio can further be affected by C-14 production rates in the atmosphere, which in turn is affected by the amount of cosmic rays penetrating the earth's atmosphere.

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