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Organisms capture a certain amount of carbon-14 from the atmosphere when they are alive.By measuring the ratio of the radio isotope to non-radioactive carbon, the amount of carbon-14 decay can be worked out, thereby giving an age for the specimen in question.’s free newsletters."data-newsletterpromo-image="https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/458BF87F-514B-44EE-B87F5D531772CF83_source.png"data-newsletterpromo-button-text="Sign Up"data-newsletterpromo-button-link="https:// origincode=2018_sciam_Article Promo_Newsletter Sign Up"name="article Body" itemprop="article Body" magazine The carbon clock is getting reset.Climate records from a Japanese lake are set to improve the accuracy of the dating technique, which could help to shed light on archaeological mysteries such as why Neanderthals became extinct.The problem, says Bronk Ramsey, is that tree rings provide a direct record that only goes as far back as about 14,000 years.

Various geologic, atmospheric and solar processes can influence atmospheric carbon-14 levels.The researchers collected roughly 70-metre core samples from the lake and painstakingly counted the layers to come up with a direct record stretching back 52,000 years.Preserved leaves in the cores — “they look fresh as if they’ve fallen very recently”, Bronk Ramsey says — yielded 651 carbon dates that could be compared to the calendar dates of the sediment they were found in.If you feel that we are not fairly describing one side, please use the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page to send us a complaint.Please be sure to include the name of this file (c14datc.htm) and your specific concerns.

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