When news is announced on the discovery of an archaeological find, we often hear about how the age of the sample was determined using radiocarbon dating, otherwise simply known as carbon dating. Deemed the gold standard of archaeology, the method was developed in the late s and is based on the idea that radiocarbon carbon 14 is being constantly created in the atmosphere by cosmic rays which then combine with atmospheric oxygen to form CO2, which is then incorporated into plants during photosynthesis. When the plant or animal that consumed the foliage dies, it stops exchanging carbon with the environment and from there on in it is simply a case of measuring how much carbon 14 has been emitted, giving its age. But new research conducted by Cornell University could be about to throw the field of archaeology on its head with the claim that there could be a number of inaccuracies in commonly accepted carbon dating standards.
Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work?
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This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature. C is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C C is produced in the upper atmosphere when nitrogen N is altered through the effects of cosmic radiation bombardment a proton is displaced by a neutron effectively changing the nitrogen atom into a carbon isotope. The new isotope is called "radiocarbon" because it is radioactive, though it is not dangerous. It is naturally unstable and so it will spontaneously decay back into N after a period of time.
With an accout for my. Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring isotope carbon 14 C to determine the age of carbonaceous materials up to about 60, years. Such raw ages can be calibrated to give calendar dates. The technique of radiocarbon dating was discovered by Willard Libby and his colleagues in  during his tenure as a professor at the University of Chicago. Libby estimated that the steady state radioactivity concentration of exchangeable carbon would be about 14 disintegrations per minute dpm per gram.