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Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured.From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).While the lighter isotopes C has decayed that what remains can no longer be measured. In 5,730 years half of the C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.

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When isotopes are to be designated specifically, the chemical symbol is expanded to identify the mass (for example, C is not stable.

As a result it is always undergoing natural radioactive decay while the abundances of the other isotopes are unchanged.

Since this rate is slow relative to the movement of carbon through food chains (from plants to animals to bacteria) all carbon in biomass at earth's surface contains atmospheric levels of C is present at atmospheric levels, the molecule must derive from a recent plant product.

The pathway from the plant to the molecule may have been indirect or lengthy, involving multiple physical, chemical, and biological processes.

Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.In Radiocarbon Dating, Sheridan Bowman provides a much-needed introduction to the complex field of carbon dating.Writing lucidly and knowledgeably, she explains the uses and quirks of radiocarbon results, illustrating them with such famous examples as Stonehenge and the Shroud of Turin.Radiocarbon Dating inaugurates a new series, "Interpreting the Past," published jointly by the British Museum and the University of California Press.Approaching archaeological techniques and artifacts from an interpretive viewpoint, the series looks in detail at specific classes of artifacts that have contributed most to our knowledge of the past, and at particular investigative techniques that are now being used to refine this knowledge and thereby to question previous assumptions.Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.

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