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Carbon-14 is continually formed in nature by the interaction of neutrons with nitrogen-14 in the Earth’s atmosphere; the neutrons required for this reaction are produced by cosmic rays interacting with the atmosphere.

Radiocarbon present in molecules of atmospheric carbon dioxide enters the biological carbon cycle: it is absorbed from the air by green plants and then passed on to animals through the food chain.

Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.

For example, Christian time counts the birth of Christ as the beginning, AD 1 (Anno Domini); everything that occurred before Christ is counted backwards from AD as BC (Before Christ).The Greeks consider the first Olympic Games as the beginning or 776 BC.The Muslims count the Prophet’s departure from Mecca, or the Hegira, as their beginning at AD 662.The Mayan calendar used 3114 BC as their reference.More recently is the radiocarbon date of 1950 AD or before present, BP.There are two techniques for dating in archaeological sites: relative and absolute dating.Relative dating stems from the idea that something is younger or older relative to something else.In a stratigraphical context objects closer to the surface are more recent in time relative to items deeper in the ground.Although relative dating can work well in certain areas, several problems arise.Rodents, for example, can create havoc in a site by moving items from one context to another.Natural disasters like floods can sweep away top layers of sites to other locations.

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