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There are three carbon isotopes that occur as part of the Earth's natural processes; these are carbon-12, carbon-13 and carbon-14.

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Some materials that do not contain carbon, like clay pots, can be dated if they were fired in an oven (burnt) and contain carbon as a result of this.The age of the plant or animal specimen containing carbon, such as wood, bones, plant remains, is determined by measuring the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14. Because of this relatively short half-life, carbon-14 can only be used to date specimens up to about 45,000 years old.After this the amount of carbon-14 present in the sample is too small to be measured precisely.AMS counts the quantity of C isotope is constantly formed in the upper atmosphere thanks to the effects of cosmic rays on nitrogen-14 atoms.It is oxidised quickly and absorbed in great quantities by all living organisms - animal and plant, land and ocean dwelling alike.The next big step in the radiocarbon dating method would be Accelerated Mass Spectrometry which was developed in the late 1980s and published its first results in 1994 (3).

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