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.
Archaeologists, anthropologists and others involved in researching things of the past have used the tools of radiocarbon (C14) dating as a supposedly accurate measurement of time in past history by which they could correlate activities from remote parts of the world.
During the tests, it became clear that the steel tools used to cut the samples can add contamination at the surface.
As modern steel is made using coal, this leads to erroneously old ages.
Radiocarbon dating was the first chronometric technique widely available to archaeologists and was especially useful because it allowed researchers to directly date the panoply of organic remains often found in archaeological sites including artifacts made from bone, shell, wood, and other carbon based materials.
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.
The Radiocarbon Revolution Since its development by Willard Libby in the 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become one of the most essential tools in archaeology.
In a stable environment, the amount of C14 is in equilibrium; that is, the amount of decay equals the amount of new C14 taken in. 17), the magnetic field is decaying as a first order exponential with a half life of 1,400 years, a number much less than the 5,700 year half life of C14.
The method was developed by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists.
Regardless of the particular 14C technique used, the value of this tool for archaeology has clearly been appreciated.
Desmond Clark (1979:7) observed that without radiocarbon dating "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation." And as Colin Renfrew (1973) aptly noted over 30 years ago, the "Radiocarbon Revolution" transformed how archaeologists could interpret the past and track cultural changes through a period in human history where we see among other things the massive migration of peoples settling virtually every major region of the world, the transition from hunting and gathering to more intensive forms of food production, and the rise of city-states.