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Among the best-known techniques are radiocarbon dating, potassium–argon dating and uranium–lead dating.
By allowing the establishment of geological timescales, it provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and the deduced rates of evolutionary change.
For instance, carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years.
After an organism has been dead for 60,000 years, so little carbon-14 is left that accurate dating can not be established.
The only exceptions are nuclides that decay by the process of electron capture, such as beryllium-7, strontium-85, and zirconium-89, whose decay rate may be affected by local electron density.
For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.
At a certain temperature, the crystal structure has formed sufficiently to prevent diffusion of isotopes.In these cases, usually the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is the longest one in the chain, which is the rate-limiting factor in the ultimate transformation of the radioactive nuclide into its stable daughter.Isotopic systems that have been exploited for radiometric dating have half-lives ranging from only about 10 years (e.g., tritium) to over 100 billion years (e.g., samarium-147).The possible confounding effects of contamination of parent and daughter isotopes have to be considered, as do the effects of any loss or gain of such isotopes since the sample was created.It is therefore essential to have as much information as possible about the material being dated and to check for possible signs of alteration.