Measurement of N, the number of 14 C atoms currently in the sample, allows the calculation of t, the age of the sample, using the equation above. The above calculations make several assumptions, such as that the level of 14 C in the atmosphere has remained constant over time. The calculations involve several steps and include an intermediate value called the "radiocarbon age", which is the age in "radiocarbon years" of the sample: Radiocarbon ages are still calculated using this half-life, and are known as "Conventional Radiocarbon Age".
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The thermoluminescence technique is the only physical means of determining the absolute age of pottery presently available. It is an absolute dating method, and does not depend on comparison with similar objects as does obsidian hydration dating, for example. Most mineral materials, including the constituents of pottery, have the property of thermoluminescence TL , where part of the energy from radioactive decay in and around the mineral is stored in the form of trapped electrons and later released as light upon strong heating as the electrons are detrapped and combine with lattice ions. By comparing this light output with that produced by known doses of radiation, the amount of radiation absorbed by the material may be found. When pottery is fired, it loses all its previously acquired TL, and on cooling the TL begins again to build up.
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