You probably have seen or read news stories about fascinating ancient artifacts. At an archaeological dig, a piece of wooden tool is unearthed and the archaeologist finds it to be 5,000 years old. A child mummy is found high in the Andes and the archaeologist says the child lived more than 2,000 years ago. How do scientists know how old an object or human remains are? What methods do they use and how do these methods work? In this edition of How Stuff Works, we will examine the methods by which scientists use radioactivity to determine the age of objects, most notably carbon-14 dating.
Carbon-14 dating is a way of determining the age of certain archeological artifacts of a biological origin up to about 50,000 years old. It is used in dating things such as bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers that were created in the relatively recent past by human activities.