To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point.
This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods.
These use radioactive minerals in rocks as geological clocks.
Results of carbon-14 dating are reported in radiocarbon years, and calibration is needed to convert radiocarbon years into calendar years.
Uncalibrated radiocarbon measurements are usually reported in years BP where 0 (zero) BP is defined as AD 1950.
The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.
These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay.
Carbon is naturally in all living organisms and is replenished in the tissues by eating other organisms or by breathing air that contains carbon.
At any particular time all living organisms have approximately the same ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 in their tissues.
When an organism dies it ceases to replenish carbon in its tissues and the decay of carbon 14 to nitrogen 14 changes the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14.
Experts can compare the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 in dead material to the ratio when the organism was alive to estimate the date of its death.
Calibration is not only done before an analysis but also on analytical results as in the case of radiocarbon dating—an analytical method that identifies the age of a material that once formed part of the biosphere by determining its carbon-14 content and tracing its age by its radioactive decay.