Carbon dating artwork

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As you wandered through the halls and peered at the various paintings and artifacts, did you ever question the information provided on the labels or in the guidebook?

Heather Graven from Imperial College London wanted to calculate the effect of this century’s fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions on the ratio of radioactive carbon to the stable one.

And according to findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, it might become impossible to tell new things from centuries-old things. Carbon-14 is a naturally occurring, radioactive form of carbon, and it decays over thousands of years.

To estimate the age of an object using radiocarbon dating, researchers have to measure how much the ratio of carbon-14 to nonradioactive carbon has changed.

Currently, the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere has been diluted, increasing the radiocarbon age of our atmosphere by 30 years per year.

"We can see from atmospheric observations that radiocarbon levels are steadily decreasing," Graven says in a statement.

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