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Why carbon dating works
Carbon dating is the most famous form of “radiometric dating”.
At that time there would have been zero lead in it. So it was, after years of attempting to measure the age of the Earth (or, more specifically, the time since it was last molten) in a regular lab, that Clair Patterson bravely announced “Dudes and dudettes of science… ” Turns out that burning gasoline, among its other little known deleterious effects, throws lead into the air.
Since carbon-14 has a half-life on the order of thousands of years, it’s useful for figuring out the age of organic materials that have been independent of the atmosphere for thousands of years. That’s not great: once everything on Earth is peppered with lead, it’s difficult for scientists to do their science.
Animals and people take in carbon-14 by eating the plants.
The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.
Since Nitrogen gas makes up about 78 percent of the Earth's air, by volume, a considerable amount of Carbon-14 is produced.
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The carbon-14 atoms combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which plants absorb naturally and incorporate into plant fibers by photosynthesis.
Not being made of carbon, we can’t carbon date them.
Fortunately, the stuff ancient civilization leave lying around tend to be found in clumps called “middens”.
Carbon-14 is continuously generated in the upper atmosphere when stray neutrons bombard atmospheric nitrogen (which is what most of the atmosphere is).
The reason carbon dating works is that the fresh carbon-14 gets mixed in with the rest of the carbon in the atmosphere and, since it’s chemically identical to regular carbon, gets worked into whatever is presently absorbing atmospheric carbon.