Radioactive carbon dating is useful for the past

These three kinds of radiation have very different properties in some respects but are all ionizing radiation–each is energetic enough to break chemical bonds, thereby possessing the ability to damage or destroy living cells.

Uranium-238, the most prevalent isotope in uranium ore, has a half-life of about 4.5 billion years; that is, half the atoms in any sample will decay in that amount of time.

Although most of the fossils that paleontologists study are several thousands to several billions of years old, there is no absolute minimum age for a biological structure to be a fossil.

Paleontologists study fossils and attempt to use them to reconstruct the history of the Earth and the life on it.

Scientists now have accurate methods (see below ) for dating fossils.

methods rely on characteristic faunal and geological patterns to bracket the period when the fossil existed.

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View the full list Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50,000 years.

For additional information on the subdisciplines of paleontology, read our "What is paleontology? Archaeologists primarily work with human artifacts — objects that have been made by humans — and with human remains.

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This process, known as radioactive decay, generally results in the emission of alpha or beta particles from the nucleus.

It is often also accompanied by emission of gamma radiation, which is electromagnetic radiation, like X-rays.

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