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Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.
Once the organism dies, however, it ceases to absorb carbon-14, so that the amount of the radiocarbon in its tissues steadily decreases.
Furthermore, the assumptions on which it is based and the conditions which must be satisfied are questionable, and in practice, no one trusts it beyond about 3,000 or 4,000 years, and then only if it can be checked by some historical means.
The method assumes, among other things, that the earth's age exceeds the time it would take for C-14 production to be in equilibrium with C-14 decay.
Once the tree dies, it ceases to take in new carbon, and any C-14 present begins to decay.
The Radiocarbon Revolution Since its development by Willard Libby in the 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become one of the most essential tools in archaeology.
Radiocarbon dating was the first chronometric technique widely available to archaeologists and was especially useful because it allowed researchers to directly date the panoply of organic remains often found in archaeological sites including artifacts made from bone, shell, wood, and other carbon based materials.
It is only useful for once-living things which still contain carbon, like flesh or bone or wood.
Rocks and fossils, consisting only of inorganic minerals, cannot be dated by this scheme.Compared to conventional radiocarbon techniques such as Libby's solid carbon counting, the gas counting method popular in the mid-1950s, or liquid scintillation (LS) counting, AMS permitted the dating of much smaller sized samples with even greater precision.Regardless of the particular 14C technique used, the value of this tool for archaeology has clearly been appreciated.Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years—, half the amount of the radioisotope present at any given time will undergo spontaneous disintegration during the succeeding 5,730 years.