Carbon dating illustration
Carbon (C) has 15 known isotopes, from carbon-8 to carbon-22, two of which (carbon-12 and carbon-13) are stable.
The longest-lived radioisotope is carbon-14, with a half-life of 5,700 years.
The mix of those isotopes is consistent among living things, but once organic matter dies its carbon 14 atoms decay.
As a result, scientists can determine the age of dead organic matter up to tens of thousands of years old by calculating the ratio of those carbon isotopes.
Levels of carbon 14 in the atmosphere are on course to return to prebomb levels after being absorbed by the ocean and are expected to fall further as they continue to be diluted by fossil fuel emissions.
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All three isotopes also have 6 electrons (black) orbiting the nucleus.
The samples were taken from a known forgery, a painting of a 19th-century village scene that was claimed to have been created in 1866.
In reality, the work had been painted in the 1980s by Robert Trotter, an artist who was later jailed and fined for selling dozens of such fakes.
Mid-20th-century nuclear bomb tests may hold a clue.
For years, scientists have been refining techniques to determine the age of a painting using radiocarbon dating and the lingering effects of the tests.
Hendriks and her colleagues did in their study, was proposed at least as far back as 1972.
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