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The amount of cosmic rays penetrating the earth's atmosphere is itself affected by things like the earth's magnetic field which deflects cosmic rays.Precise measurements taken over the last 140 years have shown a steady decay in the strength of the earth's magnetic field.Any carbon-containing material that affects the carbon 14 content of any given sample is therefore a contaminant.Important Note on Pretreatment – It is important to understand the pretreatments which are going to be applied to samples since they directly affect the final result.

The ratio can further be affected by C-14 production rates in the atmosphere, which in turn is affected by the amount of cosmic rays penetrating the earth's atmosphere.Plants and animals naturally incorporate both the abundant C-12 isotope and the much rarer radiocarbon isotope into their tissues in about the same proportions as the two occur in the atmosphere during their lifetimes.When a creature dies, it ceases to consume more radiocarbon while the C-14 already in its body continues to decay back into nitrogen.So, if we find the remains of a dead creature whose C-12 to C-14 ratio is half of what it's supposed to be (that is, one C-14 atom for every two trillion C-12 atoms instead of one in every trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for about 5,730 years (since half of the radiocarbon is missing, it takes about 5,730 years for half of it to decay back into nitrogen).If the ratio is a quarter of what it should be (one in every four trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for 11,460 year (two half-lives).

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For example, bone samples can be contaminated by the presence of limestone or organic acids in the soil (like humic or fulvic acids) where the bones were found.