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But the method's uses extend well beyond that: Researchers are hoping carbon dating can help prosecute ivory poachers, and the FBI's utilized the technique to help investigate unidentified human remains.To understand Graven's argument, you must first understand how carbon dating works.Now, plants constantly breathe in fresh carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, so the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-13 in their cells matches the ratio in the atmosphere.The same goes for animals that eat plants, and animals that eat animals, and on up the food chain. In particular, they stop taking in new carbon-14, and what's left over at the time of death is left to decay.By 2100, a newly made object would have a carbon date indistinguishable from something made 2,000 years earlier.It’s a strange example of how burning fuels is changing the way the present looks in relation to the past down to the atomic level.
Radiocarbon dating—carbon dating for short—is probably best known for its role in paleontology and archaeology, where it's used to figure out how old things like dinosaur bones or the Dead Sea Scrolls are.
(Claudio Papi/Reuters) Nearly three decades ago scientists were granted access to one of the world’s most mystifying and sacred objects: the Shroud of Turin.
The ancient rectangle of linen, with its strange stains in the shape of a tortured body, had long been venerated as the burial garment of Christ.
“If we did any current measurements on new products, they will end up having the same fraction of radiocarbon to total carbon as something that’s lost it over time due to decay,” she told the BBC.
This shift won’t render carbon dating obsolete — it’s long been known that atmospheric carbon can fluctuate, and scientists are able to re-calibrate their estimates based on modern levels.
This means that plants and animals living today contain relatively less carbon-14 than those of centuries past.