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Four fen peat sequences in northern Finland were dated by the accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon method in order to study past peatland dynamics and carbon accumulation patterns.Initially, plant macrofossils were used for dating.Newly formed carbon-14 atoms oxidize to carbon dioxide and become thoroughly mixed with the other atmospheric gases, through atmospheric dynamics.Upon reaching the earth’s surface, a small percentage of carbon-14 containing carbon dioxide is taken up by plants and then incorporation into plant biomolecules via photosynthesis.Desmond Clark (1979:7) observed that without radiocarbon dating "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation." And as Colin Renfrew (1973) aptly noted over 30 years ago, the "Radiocarbon Revolution" transformed how archaeologists could interpret the past and track cultural changes through a period in human history where we see among other things the massive migration of peoples settling virtually every major region of the world, the transition from hunting and gathering to more intensive forms of food production, and the rise of city-states.However, as with any dating technique there are limits to the kinds of things that can be satisfactorily dated, levels of precision and accuracy, age range constraints, and different levels of susceptibility to contamination.The introduction of "old" or "artificial" carbon into the atmosphere (i.e., the "Suess Effect" and "Atom Bomb Effect", respectively) can influence the ages of dates making them appear older or younger than they actually are.This is a major concern for bone dates where pretreatment procedures must be employed to isolate protein or a specific amino acid such as hydroxyproline (known to occur almost exclusively in bone collagen) to ensure accurate age assessments of bone specimens.
The application of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) for radiocarbon dating in the late 1970s was also a major achievement.
Radiocarbon dating is especially good for determining the age of sites occupied within the last 26,000 years or so (but has the potential for sites over 50,000), can be used on carbon-based materials (organic or inorganic), and can be accurate to within ±30-50 years.
Probably the most important factor to consider when using radiocarbon dating is if external factors, whether through artificial contamination, animal disturbance, or human negligence, contributed to any errors in the determinations.
It becomes incorporated into the biomolecules of heterotrophic organisms (animals) via the food chain.
The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that plant and animal tissue levels of carbon-14 remain relatively constant during life, but taper off at a predictable rate in surviving remains. Typically, traces of radiocarbon can be detected in organic remains up to 50,000 years old.