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When a sample is heated to high temperatures in a laboratory, the trapped electrons are released and return to their normal positions in their atoms.This causes them to give off their stored energy in the form of light impulses (photons). A similar effect can be brought about by stimulating the sample with infrared light.
The atoms of crystalline solids, such as pottery and rock, can be altered by this radiation.
The intensity of thermoluminescence is directly related to the amount of accumulated changes produced by background radiation, which, in turn, varies with the age of the sample and the amount of trace radioactive elements it contains..
It is also based on the fact that background radiation causes electrons to dislodge from their normal positions in atoms and become trapped in the crystalline lattice of the material.
This dating method can be used with samples that are as young as a few decades to as old as the earth and beyond.
However, paleoanthropologists rarely use it to date sites more than several million years old.
Progressively through time, the carbon-14 atoms decay and once again become nitrogen-14.