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Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years—, half the amount of the radioisotope present at any given time will undergo spontaneous disintegration during the succeeding 5,730 years. It has proved to be a versatile technique of dating fossils and archaeological specimens from 500 to 50,000 years old.Because carbon-14 decays at this constant rate, an estimate of the date at which an organism died can be made by measuring the amount of its residual radiocarbon. The method is widely used by Pleistocene geologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and investigators in related fields.Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!These include some that establish a relative chronology in which occurrences can be placed in the correct sequence relative to one another or to some known succession of events.Radiometric dating and certain other approaches are used to provide absolute chronologies in terms of years before the present.This then can be used to deduce the sequence of events and processes that took place or the history of that brief period of time as recorded in the rocks or soil.

Scientists first developed absolute dating techniques at the end of the 19th century.It is founded on unprovable assumptions such as 1) there has been no contamination and 2) the decay rate has remained constant.By dating rocks of known ages which give highly inflated ages, geologists have shown this method can’t give reliable absolute ages.The two approaches are often complementary, as when a sequence of occurrences in one context can be correlated with an absolute chronlogy elsewhere.Local relationships on a single outcrop or archaeological site can often be interpreted to deduce the sequence in which the materials were assembled.

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