Curve dating

This, in fact, is the most significant factor contributing to loss of precision in radiocarbon dates today.

The water leaking out the sides of the barrel represents the loss (mainly by radioactive decay) of the atmosphere's supply of carbon-14.

Now, the fuller that barrel gets the more water is going to leak out the thoroughly perforated sides, just as more carbon-14 will decay if you have more of it around.

Thus it is possible in some instances for two samples from a few decades apart to have the same radiocarbon concentration today, and hence the same apparent radiocarbon age.

This happens whenever there is a wiggle in the curve at the time the samples died.

The precision of a radiocarbon date tells how narrow the range of dates is.

There are two main factors which determine the precision of a radiocarbon date.

The argument may be compared to filling a barrel which has numerous small holes in its sides.

We stick the garden hose in and turn it on full blast.

In Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS), for example, the number of radiocarbon atoms in a stream of atoms coming from the sample is counted.

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