Histories of archaeology often refer to its impact as the "radiocarbon revolution".
Radiocarbon dating has allowed key transitions in prehistory to be dated, such as the end of the last ice age, and the beginning of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in different regions.
The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.
The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.
In 1939, Martin Kamen and Samuel Ruben of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley began experiments to determine if any of the elements common in organic matter had isotopes with half-lives long enough to be of value in biomedical research.
They synthesized Libby and several collaborators proceeded to experiment with methane collected from sewage works in Baltimore, and after isotopically enriching their samples they were able to demonstrate that they contained radioactive .
Atmospheric nuclear weapon tests almost doubled the concentration of concentrations in the neighbourhood of large cities are lower than the atmospheric average.
This fossil fuel effect (also known as the Suess effect, after Hans Suess, who first reported it in 1955) would only amount to a reduction of 0.2% in activity if the additional carbon from fossil fuels were distributed throughout the carbon exchange reservoir, but because of the long delay in mixing with the deep ocean, the actual effect is a 3% reduction.
the average or expected time a given atom will survive before undergoing radioactive decay. The calculations involve several steps and include an intermediate value called the "radiocarbon age", which is the age in "radiocarbon years" of the sample: an age quoted in radiocarbon years means that no calibration curve has been used − the calculations for radiocarbon years assume that the , which for more than a decade after Libby's initial work was thought to be 5,568 years.
This was revised in the early 1960s to 5,730 years, which meant that many calculated dates in papers published prior to this were incorrect (the error in the half-life is about 3%).
Because the time it takes to convert biological materials to fossil fuels is substantially longer than the time it takes for its in the atmosphere, which attained a maximum in 1963 of almost twice what it had been before the testing began.
Measurement of radiocarbon was originally done by beta-counting devices, which counted the amount of beta radiation emitted by decaying atoms in the sample and not just the few that happen to decay during the measurements; it can therefore be used with much smaller samples (as small as individual plant seeds), and gives results much more quickly.
Other corrections must be made to account for the proportion of throughout the biosphere (reservoir effects).