# Limits of carbon dating

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. Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of 14

C in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years. The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age. Other corrections must be made to account for the proportion of 14

C in different types of organisms (fractionation), and the varying levels of 14

C throughout the biosphere (reservoir effects). Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s. Because the time it takes to convert biological materials to fossil fuels is substantially longer than the time it takes for its 14

C to decay below detectable levels, fossil fuels contain almost no 14

C , and as a result there was a noticeable drop in the proportion of 14

C in the atmosphere beginning in the late 19th century. Conversely, nuclear testing increased the amount of 14

C in the atmosphere, which attained a maximum in 1963 of almost twice what it had been before the testing began.

Limits of carbon dating

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Limits of carbon dating