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But in a dead organism, no new carbon is coming in, and its carbon 14 gradually begins to decay.
So by measuring carbon 14 levels in an organism that died long ago, researchers can figure out when it died.
The potassium-argon (K-Ar) isotopic dating method is especially useful for determining the age of lavas.
Developed in the 1950s, it was important in developing the theory of plate tectonics and in calibrating the geologic time scale.
The rock sample to be dated must be chosen very carefully.
Any alteration or fracturing means that the potassium or the argon or both have been disturbed.
This system can be used for standard TL and OSL measurements in Geo-/Archaeochronometry, mineralogical research, solid state and retrospective dosimetry, radiation control and material sciences.
In living organisms, which are always taking in carbon, the levels of carbon 14 likewise stay constant.
It cannot give the complete picture although it can do many things.
It gives an absolute, objective measurement of the time since the clay at the sampling site was fired.
"Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.
We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].