Encyclopedia of Paleoclimatology and Ancient Environments

2009 Edition
| Editors: Vivien Gornitz

Radiocarbon Dating

  • R. Ervin Taylor
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4411-3_200

Radiocarbon (14C) dating, now in its fifth decade of routine use, remains the most widely employed method of inferring chronometric age for organic materials from the late Pleistocene and Holocene. It provides the principal time scale for reconstruction of the history of late Quaternary environments, including the temporal scale for climate proxy records, and documents chronometric relationships for prehistoric human cultures on a world-wide basis.

Radiocarbon dating model

The natural production of 14C is a secondary effect of cosmic-ray interactions with atmospheric gas molecules, with the resultant production of neutrons (Figure R1). Most 14C is formed by the reaction of neutrons with 14N. It is then rapidly oxidized to form 14CO 2. In this form, 14C is distributed throughout the Earth’s atmosphere by stratospheric winds, becoming generally well-mixed by the time 14C-tagged CO 2 molecules reach the Earth’s surface. Most 14C is absorbed in the oceans, while 1–2% becomes part of the...
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  • R. Ervin Taylor

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