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But after 30,000 years, 98% of the isotope is gone and younger carbon molecules are starting to infiltrate bones, making remains seem younger than they are.
This means that dates for the final Neanderthals and for the first human occupations of Europe have been unreliable, fomenting the debate.
The long overlap provided plenty of time for cultural exchange and interbreeding, he adds.
The technique involves comparing the level of one kind of carbon atom—one that decays over time—with the level of another, more stable kind of carbon atom.
The approach was a sensation when it was introduced.
For the most part, radiocarbon dating has made a huge difference for archaeologists everywhere, but the process does have a few flaws.
For example, if an object touches some organic material (like, say, your hand), it can test younger than it really is.
But now archaeologists studying, say, the development of agriculture across the continents are able to determine how different societies stacked up against one another throughout the millennia.