Question: A sample that is more than fifty thousand years old shouldn't have any measurable C-14. Radiocarbon dating doesn't work well on objects much older than twenty thousand years, because such objects have so little C-14 left that their beta radiation is swamped out by the background radiation of cosmic rays and potassium-40 (K-40) decay. this isotope [K-40] accounts for a large part of the normal background radiation that can be detected on the earth's surface" (p. This radiation cannot be totally eliminated from the laboratory, so one could probably get a "radiocarbon" date of fifty thousand years from a pure carbon-free piece of tin.Coal, oil, and natural gas are supposed to be millions of years old; yet creationists say that some of them contain measurable amounts of C-14, enough to give them C-14 ages in the tens of thousands of years. Younger objects can easily be dated, because they still emit plenty of beta radiation, enough to be measured after the background radiation has been subtracted out of the total beta radiation. However, you now know why this fact doesn't at all invalidate radiocarbon dates of objects younger than twenty thousand years and is certainly no evidence for the notion that coals and oils might be no older than fifty thousand years.By measuring the ratio of the radio isotope to non-radioactive carbon, the amount of carbon-14 decay can be worked out, thereby giving an age for the specimen in question.But that assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock.Two distinct sediment layers have formed in the lake every summer and winter over tens of thousands of years.The researchers collected roughly 70-metre core samples from the lake and painstakingly counted the layers to come up with a direct record stretching back 52,000 years.Radiocarbon dating can easily establish that humans have been on the earth for over twenty thousand years, at least twice as long as creationists are willing to allow.
The problem, says Bronk Ramsey, is that tree rings provide a direct record that only goes as far back as about 14,000 years.Preserved leaves in the cores — “they look fresh as if they’ve fallen very recently”, Bronk Ramsey says — yielded 651 carbon dates that could be compared to the calendar dates of the sediment they were found in.The recalibrated clock won’t force archaeologists to abandon old measurements wholesale, says Bronk Ramsey, but it could help to narrow the window of key events in human history.Carbon from these sources is very low in C-14 because these sources are so old and have not been mixed with fresh carbon from the air.Thus, a freshly killed mussel has far less C-14 than a freshly killed something else, which is why the C-14 dating method makes freshwater mussels seem older than they really are.The clock was initially calibrated by dating objects of known age such as Egyptian mummies and bread from Pompeii; work that won Willard Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.