The introduction of "old" or "artificial" carbon into the atmosphere (i.e., the "Suess Effect" and "Atom Bomb Effect", respectively) can influence the ages of dates making them appear older or younger than they actually are.This is a major concern for bone dates where pretreatment procedures must be employed to isolate protein or a specific amino acid such as hydroxyproline (known to occur almost exclusively in bone collagen) to ensure accurate age assessments of bone specimens.

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Radiocarbon dating is especially good for determining the age of sites occupied within the last 26,000 years or so (but has the potential for sites over 50,000), can be used on carbon-based materials (organic or inorganic), and can be accurate to within ±30-50 years.

Probably the most important factor to consider when using radiocarbon dating is if external factors, whether through artificial contamination, animal disturbance, or human negligence, contributed to any errors in the determinations.

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.

If all organisms contain radiocarbon, why can’t all organic samples be radiocarbon dated?

Living organisms use carbon-bearing compounds for energy, respiration, and structural tissues.However, there are a number of other factors that can affect the amount of carbon present in a sample and how that information is interpreted by archaeologists.Thus a great deal of care is taken in securing and processing samples and multiple samples are often required if we want to be confident about assigning a date to a site, feature, or artifact (read more about the radiocarbon dating technique at: Shells of known age collected prior to nuclear testing have also been dated ( to ascertain the effects of old carbon (i.e., local marine reservoir effects). However, the most common materials dated by archaeologists are wood charcoal, shell, and bone. In brief, radiocarbon dating measures the amount of radioactive carbon 14 (14C) in a sample.Radiocarbon analyses are carried out at specialized laboratories around the world (see a list of labs at: When a biological organism dies, the radioactive carbon in its body begins to break down or decay.Shell may succumb to isotopic exchange if it interacts with carbon from percolating ground acids or recrystallization when shell aragonite transforms to calcite and involves the exchange of modern calcite.