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On the window sill of Prior's office sits the Californian personalised number plate CARBN14, which she used before moving to New Zealand in 1997.
It's that radioactive form of carbon – known as C14 – that is the key to discovering whether a carved ivory sculpture is an antiquity or a modern sham feeding poachers' coffers; whether a water bore is sucking dry an age-old aquifer or tapping a renewable store; whether a picture frame predates the painting in it.
Under a microscope, a lab technician cleans a tiny wood chip extracted from an American museum treasure.
This fragment no bigger than a fingernail is enough to divine whether the artefact it came from is really the Roman musical instrument its owners believe it to be.
Anthropologists can describe a people’s physical character, culture, and environmental and social relations.
But archaeology’s aim to understand mankind is a noble endeavor that goes beyond uncovering buried treasures, gathering information, and dating events.
Aside from radiocarbon dating, ISO/IEC 17005-accredited Beta Analytic also provides biobased/renewable carbon content testing to manufacturers, product distributors, and researchers worldwide for biobased products, biofuels, waste-derived fuels and their combustion emissions (CO2 gas).
The lab also uses Carbon-14 analysis for natural product source testing on materials such as flavors, fragrances, essential oils, cosmetics and supplements to identify petrochemicals.
Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years.
The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age.
It is in knowing what made past cultures cease to exist that could provide the key in making sure that history does not repeat itself.