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By contrast, methane created from petroleum showed no radiocarbon activity because of its age.The results were summarized in a paper in Science in 1947, in which the authors commented that their results implied it would be possible to date materials containing carbon of organic origin.The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.

Measurement of radiocarbon was originally done by beta-counting devices, which counted the amount of beta radiation emitted by decaying atoms in the sample and not just the few that happen to decay during the measurements; it can therefore be used with much smaller samples (as small as individual plant seeds), and gives results much more quickly.

The development of radiocarbon dating has had a profound impact on archaeology.

In addition to permitting more accurate dating within archaeological sites than previous methods, it allows comparison of dates of events across great distances.

In 1939, Martin Kamen and Samuel Ruben of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley began experiments to determine if any of the elements common in organic matter had isotopes with half-lives long enough to be of value in biomedical research.

They synthesized Libby and several collaborators proceeded to experiment with methane collected from sewage works in Baltimore, and after isotopically enriching their samples they were able to demonstrate that they contained radioactive .

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