Many French museums keep in their reserves a great number of mummified human remains.Beyond any ethical or deontological issues, they constitute an important part of our archaeological and historical heritage.Follow the links below to learn more about radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating uses carbon isotopes A special kind of radiocarbon dating: Bomb radiocarbon dating What is an isotope?To understand radiocarbon dating, you first have to understand the word Although an element’s number of protons cannot change, the number of neutrons can vary slightly from each atom.For example, 14C dates permit the exclusion of the assumed relationship of a woman with a child.Similarly, a hair sample from the head of a mummy presents a very different 14C date from that of the hair across her chest.Radiocarbon dating uses isotopes of the element carbon. Cosmic rays – high energy particles from beyond the solar system – bombard Earth’s upper atmosphere continually, in the process creating the unstable carbon-14. Because it’s unstable, carbon-14 will eventually decay back to carbon-12 isotopes.
Levels of carbon-14 become difficult to measure and compare after about 50,000 years (between 8 and 9 half lives; where 1% of the original carbon-14 would remain undecayed).This technique is widely used on recent artifacts, but educators and students alike should note that this technique will not work on older fossils (like those of the dinosaurs alleged to be millions of years old).This technique is not restricted to bones; it can also be used on cloth, wood and plant fibers.The question should be whether or not carbon-14 can be used to date any artifacts at all? There are a few categories of artifacts that can be dated using carbon-14; however, they cannot be more 50,000 years old.Carbon-14 cannot be used to date biological artifacts of organisms that did not get their carbon dioxide from the air.