Reliability of radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating is one of the great tools of science that has allowed archeologists to shed new light on everything from the building of Stonehenge to the beginnings of international trade.However, a new study from the Imperial College London suggests that fossil fuel carbon emissions may be so diluting radioactive carbon isotopes that within decades it will difficult to differentiate between modern artifacts and those over a thousand years old.However its application has caused extreme confusion and misunderstanding of the archaeological record.Knowing the limitations of this dating method can help avoid colossal archaeological misinterpretations that would otherwise distort history.It's based on the very simple principle that radioactive isotopes decay at a steady, predictable rate.Radium, for example, has a half-life of about 1,600 years.

Probably the most important factor to consider when using radiocarbon dating is if external factors, whether through artificial contamination, animal disturbance, or human negligence, contributed to any errors in the determinations.That is, if you had a solid block of radium, half of it would decay into other elements in 1,600 years.In another 1,600 years, half of that would decay, and so on until it was all gone.Carbon dating works only with material that was once alive.It does not work on rock, for example, but does work on wood.