Radiocarbon dating effects
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.
Bioturbation by crabs, rodents, and other animals can also cause samples to move between strata leading to age reversals.
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.
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.
Alone, or in concert, these factors can lead to inaccuracies and misinterpretations by archaeologists without proper investigation of the potential problems associated with sampling and dating.