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Radiocarbon dating involves determining the age of an ancient fossil or specimen by measuring its carbon-14 content.

Carbon-14, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide.

Uranium is present in many different rocks and minerals, usually in the form of uranium-238.

This form of uranium usually decays into a stable lead isotope but the uranium atoms can also split – a process known as fission.

Toghill; British Regional Geology, The Midland Valley; en.wikipedia.org; A Dynamic Stratigraphy of the British Isles, R. Picture credits: Mackenzie delta by Lois Brown at dragonfly by 'pjayres' at jungle palm by 'janeandpoppy' at Arthropleura from

Safety notice: Fossil hunting can at times pose a risk to personal safety, in particular within environments close to the coast, cliffs or in quarries and when using the tools and equipment illustrated.

These include radiometric dating of volcanic layers above or below the fossils or by comparisons to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.

Knowing when a dinosaur or other animal lived is important because it helps us place them on the evolutionary family tree.

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References: British Lower Jurassic Stratigraphy, M. Toghill; A Dynamic Stratigraphy of the British Isles, A. Safety notice: Fossil hunting can at times pose a risk to personal safety, in particular within environments close to the coast, cliffs or in quarries and when using the tools and equipment illustrated.But while the difficulties of single life may be intractable, the challenge of determining the age of prehistoric artifacts and fossils is greatly aided by measuring certain radioactive isotopes.Until this century, relative dating was the only technique for identifying the age of a truly ancient object.After death the amount of carbon-14 in the organic specimen decreases very regularly as the molecules decay.Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years, meaning that every 5,700 years or so the object loses half its carbon-14.Discovering Fossils provides a free resource to inform you about this fascinating subject and does not accept any liability for decisions made using this information.

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