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18 Jun

Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.

This means that although they are very similar chemically, they have different masses.

This method requires less than 1g of bone, but few countries can afford more than one or two AMSs, which cost more than A0,000.

Australia has two machines dedicated to radiocarbon analysis, and they are out of reach for much of the developing world.

In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.

Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.

With the development of a new method of cleaning charcoal called ABOx-SC, Michael Bird helped to push back the date of arrival of the first humans in Australia by more than 10,000 years.

Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.

Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.

If 1% of the carbon in a 50,000 year old sample is from a modern contaminant, the sample will be dated to around 40,000 years.

Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.