Absolute dating methods in archaeology

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When ‘parent’ uranium-238 decays, for example, it produces subatomic particles, energy and ‘daughter’ lead-206.

Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.

The table below shows characteristics of some common radiometric dating methods.

Geologists choose a dating method that suits the materials available in their rocks. Measuring isotopes is particularly useful for dating igneous and some metamorphic rock, but not sedimentary rock.

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Relative dating includes different techniques, but the most commonly used are soil stratigraphy analysis and typology.Because of the fairly fast decay rate of carbon-14, it can only be used on material up to about 60,000 years old.Geologists use radiocarbon to date such materials as wood and pollen trapped in sediment, which indicates the date of the sediment itself.Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.Each isotope is identified with what is called a ‘mass number’.Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find.

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