The impact of the radiocarbon dating technique on modern man has made it one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.
Radiocarbon dating is essentially a method designed to measure residual radioactivity.
By knowing how much carbon 14 is left in a sample, the age of the organism when it died can be known.
Carbon-14, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide.
Green plants absorb the carbon dioxide, so the population of carbon-14 molecules is continually replenished until the plant dies.
We compare two methods of isolating bone collagen for stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis.
The older method (as practised at the University of Cape Town) demineralizes bone ‘chunks’, while the newer method (as practised at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig) involves demineralization, gelatinization and ultra-filtration to select only higher molecular weight protein fragments for isotopic analysis.
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.
Archaeological specimens range in age from a few hundred to approximately six thousand years old.