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Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated.
This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment.
Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods.
One of the most widely used is potassium–argon dating (K–Ar dating).
Particular isotopes are suitable for different applications due to the types of atoms present in the mineral or other material and its approximate age.
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as carbon-14, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
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In archaeology, absolute dating is usually based on the physical, chemical, and life properties of the materials of artifacts, buildings, or other items that have been modified by humans and by historical associations with materials with known dates (coins and written history).
Techniques include tree rings in timbers, radiocarbon dating of wood or bones, and trapped-charge dating methods such as thermoluminescence dating of glazed ceramics.
By measuring the carbon-14 in organic material, scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact.
The relatively short half-life of carbon-14, 5,730 years, makes dating reliable only up to about 50,000 years.