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    Carbon dating

    For radiocarbon dating to be possible, the material must once have been part of a living organism.

    This means that things like stone, metal and pottery cannot usually be directly dated by this means unless there is some organic material embedded or left as a residue.

    So we'll say alright, the amount at 10,000 is equal to the initial amount that I started with 1.3 times 10 to the -12 times a half to the 10,000 divided by 5700. And when you do so, you'll end up with 0.385 times 10 to the -12.

    Now one thing that it's important to keep in mind about carbon dating is that this is a really small number. The abundance, the natural abundance is already very small. You can usually date something that's under about 40 or 50,000 years old using this technique.

    Common materials for radiocarbon dating are: The radiocarbon formed in the upper atmosphere is mostly in the form of carbon dioxide. Because the carbon present in a plant comes from the atmosphere in this way, the radio of radiocarbon to stable carbon in the plant is virtually the same as that in the atmosphere.

    Plant eating animals (herbivores and omnivores) get their carbon by eating plants.

    The net effect of this is that all living organisms have the same radiocarbon to stable carbon ratio as the atmosphere.

    Those tests left their mark in the isotope record, significantly boosting levels of atmospheric carbon 14, the radioactive form of the element that researchers measure in carbon dating.

    Living things take up carbon from the environment, so barley grown during the nuclear era—and the whiskey distilled from it—bears an increased load of carbon 14.

    (Carbon dating of truly ancient objects uses the steady decay of carbon 14 in once-living tissues as a marker of age: the older something is, the less carbon 14 it has left.) Stakes are high in the antique whiskey business—a bottle of 1926 Macallan fetched ,000 at Christie's New York in 2007—and forgeries appear to be commonplace.

    "So far there have probably been more fakes among the samples we've tested than real examples of old whisky," Tom Higham, deputy director of the ORAU, told .

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