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This variation is caused by both natural processes and human activity.
Cosmic rays and changes in Earth’s climate can cause irregularities in the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere has not been steady throughout history.
The technique hinges on carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of the element that, unlike other more stable forms of carbon, decays away at a steady rate.
But that assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock.
The clock was initially calibrated by dating objects of known age such as Egyptian mummies and bread from Pompeii; work that won Willard Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Bronk Ramsey’s team aimed to fill this gap by using sediment from bed of Lake Suigetsu, west of Tokyo.
Two distinct sediment layers have formed in the lake every summer and winter over tens of thousands of years.