In 1991, hikers in the Tyrolean Alps of Europe made a remarkable discovery.
They found an almost perfectly preserved body of a prehistoric man, whom scientists named Ötzi.
Notice in the diagram that eight different isotopes of Carbon are illustrated.
Three of the Carbon isotopes (C) are found in nature.
They reasoned that Ötzi and the other organisms must have been trapped by a sudden snowfall and virtually “flash frozen.” This singular event was followed immediately by an extended cold period that preserved the specimens until the present glacial retreat.
Carbon dating of samples from the site established the time of Ötzi’s demise at approximately 5,300 years ago.
The discovery was made possible because recent warming of the atmosphere had caused glaciers in the region to retreat, exposing objects that had been buried under the ice for millennia.
What percentage of the original carbon-14 in Ötzi’s body was remaining in 1991? Scientists have been rethinking the nature of past climates.
Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen.
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