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Absolute dating provides a numerical age or range in contrast with relative dating which places events in order without any measure of the age between events.In archaeology, absolute dating is usually based on the physical, chemical, and life properties of the materials of artifacts, buildings, or other items that have been modified by humans and by historical associations with materials with known dates (coins and written history).After yet another 5,730 years only one-eighth will be left.By measuring the carbon-14 in organic material, scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact.
It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.Thus dating that particular tree does not necessarily indicate when the fire burned or the structure was built.For this reason, many archaeologists prefer to use samples from short-lived plants for radiocarbon dating.Carbon-14 moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. It takes 5,730 years for half the carbon-14 to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon-14.After another 5,730 years only one-quarter of the original carbon-14 will remain.
The development of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard.