Obviously, the limit of the method differs between laboratories dependent upon the extent to which background levels of radioactivity can be reduced.
Amongst accelerator laboratories there has been mooted the theoretical possibility of extended range dating to 75 000 yr , at present this seems difficult to attain because of the problems in accurately differentiating between ions that mimic the mass and charge characteristics of the C14 atom.
Much of the information presented in this section is based upon the Stuiver and Polach (1977) paper "Discussion: Reporting of C14 data". 1890 wood was chosen as the radiocarbon standard because it was growing prior to the fossil fuel effects of the industrial revolution.
A copy of this paper may be found in the Radiocarbon Home Page The radiocarbon age of a sample is obtained by measurement of the residual radioactivity. T (National Institute of Standards and Technology; Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA) Oxalic Acid I (C). The activity of 1890 wood is corrected for radioactive decay to 1950.
It is vital for a radiocarbon laboratory to know the contribution to routine sample activity of non-sample radioactivity.
Obviously, this activity is additional and must be removed from calculations.
This is calculated through careful measurement of the residual activity (per gram C) remaining in a sample whose age is Unknown, compared with the activity present in Modern and Background samples. Thus 1950, is year 0 BP by convention in radiocarbon dating and is deemed to be the 'present'.
D14C is calculated using: Figure 1: Decay curve for C14 showing the activity at one half-life (t/2).
Another standard, Oxalic Acid II was prepared when stocks of HOx 1 began to dwindle. The ratio of the activity of Oxalic acid II to 1 is 1.29330.001 (the weighted mean) (Mann, 1983). There are other secondary radiocarbon standards, the most common is ANU (Australian National University) sucrose.
The ratio of the activity of sucrose with 0.95 Ox was first measured by Polach at 1.50070.0052 (Polach, 1976b:122).
d14C represents the per mille depletion in sample carbon 14 prior to isotopic fractionation correction and is measured by: D14C represents the 'normalized' value of d14C.
'Normalized' means that the activity is scaled in relation to fractionation of the sample, or its delta C13 value.
Should the activity of the sample be indistinguishable from the background activity at 1 standard deviation, it is released as background.