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Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.

Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured.

The principle of radiocarbon dating is simple: the rates at which various radioactive elements decay are known, and the ratio of the radioactive element to its decay products shows how long the radioactive element has existed in the rock.

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Paleontology seeks to map out how life evolved across geologic time.A substantial hurdle is the difficulty of working out fossil ages.Together with stratigraphic principles, radiometric dating methods are used in geochronology to establish the geological time scale.Beds that preserve fossils typically lack the radioactive elements needed for radiometric dating ("radiocarbon dating" or simply "carbon dating").Favoriting this resource allows you to save it in the “My Resources” tab of your account.

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Radioactive elements are common only in rocks with a volcanic origin, so the only fossil-bearing rocks that can be dated radiometrically are volcanic ash layers.

Carbon dating uses the decay of carbon-14 to estimate the age of organic materials, such as wood and leather.

Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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

Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.