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We know these steps because researchers followed the progress of carbon-14 throughout the process.
Radioactive isotopes are useful for establishing the ages of various objects.
Using such methods, scientists determined that the age of the Shroud of Turin (Figure 15.3 “Shroud of Turin”; purported by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ and composed of flax fibres, a type of plant) is about 600–700 y, not 2,000 y as claimed by some.
Scientists were also able to use radiocarbon dating to show that the age of a mummified body found in the ice of the Alps was 5,300 y.
For instance, leaks in underground water pipes can be discovered by running some tritium-containing water through the pipes and then using a Geiger counter to locate any radioactive tritium subsequently present in the ground around the pipes.
(Recall that tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.) Tracers can also be used to follow the steps of a complex chemical reaction.
One isotope, carbon-14, is particularly useful in determining the age of once-living artifacts.
A tiny amount of carbon-14 is produced naturally in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and living things incorporate some of it into their tissues, building up to a constant, albeit very low, level.
(The half-life of carbon-14 is 5,370 y.) If a once-living artifact is discovered and analyzed many years after its death and the remaining carbon-14 is compared to the known constant level, an approximate age of the artifact can be determined.After incorporating radioactive atoms into reactant molecules, scientists can track where the atoms go by following their radioactivity.One excellent example of this is the use of carbon-14 to determine the steps involved in photosynthesis in plants.Shroud of Turin In 1989, several groups of scientists used carbon-14 dating to demonstrate that the Shroud of Turin was only 600–700 y.Many people still cling to a different notion, despite the scientific evidence.