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Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.This means that although they are very similar chemically, they have different masses.In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.
The uncalibrated date is given with the unit BP (radiocarbon years before 1950).
In 2008 we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26,000 years.
Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.
Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of C, making it incredibly difficult to measure and extremely sensitive to contamination.