Absolute dating in archaeology

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Chronometric dating, also known as chronometry or absolute dating, is any archaeological dating method that gives a result in calendar years before the present time.

Archaeologists and scientists use absolute dating methods on samples ranging from prehistoric fossils to artifacts from relatively recent history.

Because of the fairly fast decay rate of carbon-14, it can only be used on material up to about 60,000 years old.

Geologists use radiocarbon to date such materials as wood and pollen trapped in sediment, which indicates the date of the sediment itself.

The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.

These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay.

All radiometric dating methods measure isotopes in some way.

Most directly measure the amount of isotopes in rocks, using a mass spectrometer.

Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.

The table below shows characteristics of some common radiometric dating methods.

Geologists choose a dating method that suits the materials available in their rocks. Measuring isotopes is particularly useful for dating igneous and some metamorphic rock, but not sedimentary rock.

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