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Radioactive decay dating techniques

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Radiometric dating is also used to date archaeological materials, including ancient artifacts.

Different methods of radiometric dating vary in the timescale over which they are accurate and the materials to which they can be applied.

The dating of fossils and rocks using radioactive dating techniques is considered by most to be a very reliable ‘scientific’ method.

It is almost universally accepted that these procedures attribute an absolute date to rocks and therefore also to the fossils found within the rock.

All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elements, each with its own atomic number, indicating the number of protons in the atomic nucleus.

Additionally, elements may exist in different isotopes, with each isotope of an element differing in the number of neutrons in the nucleus.

Radiometric dating techniques are based on the principle that naturally occurring materials contain variants of particular chemical elements (called isotopes), and some of these variants are unstable and undergo radioactive decay over time as the atoms transform into more stable forms.

The time it takes for half of a given amount of an unstable isotope to decay is called half-life.

Prior to the development of radiocarbon dating in the late 1940s, archaeologists relied primarily on historical records and the position of archaeological finds to determine the relative order of past events.Scientists have observed large errors when dating something they already knew the age of.This is largely due to the fact that the object being tested was not in a closed system.Following the somewhat serendipitous discovery of radioactivity by Becquerel, many prominent scientists began to investigate this new, intriguing phenomenon.Among them were Marie Curie (the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in different sciences—chemistry and physics), who was the first to coin the term “radioactivity,” and Ernest Rutherford (of gold foil experiment fame), who investigated and named three of the most common types of radiation.The radiation produced during radioactive decay is such that the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than the parent nuclide, so the location of a nuclide relative to the band of stability can serve as a guide to the kind of decay it will undergo. A nucleus of uranium-238 (the parent nuclide) undergoes α decay to form thorium-234 (the daughter nuclide).