As explained below, the radiocarbon date tells us when the organism was alive (not when the material was used).
This fact should always be remembered when using radiocarbon dates.
There are three carbon isotopes that occur as part of the Earth's natural processes; these are carbon-12, carbon-13 and carbon-14.
The unstable nature of carbon 14 (with a precise half-life that makes it easy to measure) means it is ideal as an absolute dating method.
In contrast to relative dating techniques whereby artifacts were simply designated as "older" or "younger" than other cultural remains based on the presence of fossils or stratigraphic position, 14C dating provided an easy and increasingly accessible way for archaeologists to construct chronologies of human behavior and examine temporal changes through time at a finer scale than what had previously been possible.
The application of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) for radiocarbon dating in the late 1970s was also a major achievement.
Because of the somewhat short half-life of 14C, radiocarbon dating is not applicable to samples with ages greater than about 50,000 years, because the remaining concentration would be too small for accurate measurement.
Regardless of the particular 14C technique used, the value of this tool for archaeology has clearly been appreciated.
date of organic material - but an approximate age, usually within a range of a few years either way.
The other method is “Relative Dating” which gives an order of events without giving an exact age (1): typically artefact typology or the study of the sequence of the evolution of fossils.
Application of this method of age determination is limited to those periods of pottery and fired clay availability ( from about 6000 BC to the present). 50 Denison Drive Guilford, CT 06437 (203) 453-3299 University of Hawai'i Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology 2525 Correa Road Honolulu, HI 96822 (808) 956-8761 FAX (808) 956-3188 University of Washington Luminescence Laboratory, DH-05 Seattle, WA 98195 (206) 543-1506 FAX (206) 543-3285 American Council of Independent Laboratories 1629 K Street, NW Washington, DC 20006 (202) 887-5872 FAX (202)887-0021 E-mail: [email protected] of independent testing, research and inspection laboratories. 101 West Edison Avenue, Suite 250 Appleton, WI 54915 (920) 749-3040 FAX (920) 749-3046 Testing and analysis for the pulp, paper, and allied industries. FAO/IAEA International Symposium on Managing Soils for Food Security and Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, Vienna, Austria 23-27 July 2012 Hua, Quan. Radiocarbon: A chronological tool for the recent past.
Radiocarbon WEB-info Provides a large international listing of laboratories that do radiocarbon dating; information on radiocarbon dating; publications and references; and educational materials. The Smithsonian Institution, Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), gives no endorsements for any products, materials or services mentioned in this pamphlet and is not responsible for problems from their use or misuse.