10 facts about carbon dating
This new method was based on gas and liquid scintillation counting and these methods are still used today, having been demonstrated as more accurate than Libby's original method (3).
Willard Libby would receive a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960.
It also has some applications in geology; its importance in dating organic materials cannot be underestimated enough.
In 1979, Desmond Clark said of the method “we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation” (3).
This allows researchers to account for variation by comparing the known records of C levels in the tree record, looking for a tree record that has the same proportion of radiocarbon.
The overlapping nature of the tree records means this is the most accurate record we have.
Radiocarbon dating is simply a measure of the level of C isotopes in the atmosphere can vary.
Though their initial calculations were slightly incorrect thanks to the contaminants of extensive nuclear testing of the age, scientists soon discovered the error and developed methods that were more accurate, including a date of calibration to 1950.It is presumed that the proportion of atmospheric C is the same today as it was in 1950 (10), (11) and that the half-life remains the same.If a radioactivity level comes back as half of what would have been expected if the organism had died in 1950, then it is presumed to be 5,730 years before 1950.The sample passes through several accelerators in order to remove as many atoms as possible until the C pass into the detector.These latter atoms are used as part of the calibration process to measure the relative number of isotopes (9).