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27 Mar

Certain unstable isotopes of trace radioactive elements in both organic and inorganic materials decay into stable isotopes. By measuring the proportion of different isotopes present, researchers can figure out how old the material is.Here are some of the most common radiometric methods: Radiocarbon dating: Sometimes called carbon-14 dating, this method works on organic material.Egyptologists, for example, created a relative chronology of pre-pharaonic Egypt based on increasing complexity in ceramics found at burial sites.Whenever possible, researchers use one or more absolute dating methods, which provide an age for the actual fossil or artifact.

Methods fall into one of two categories: relative or absolute.

The uranium-thorium method is often helpful for dating finds in the 40,000- to 500,000-year-old range, too old for radiocarbon but too young for K-Ar or Ar-Ar.

Over time, certain kinds of rocks and organic material, such as coral and teeth, are very good at trapping electrons from sunlight and cosmic rays pummeling Earth.

Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die.

Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in their remains decreases.