This process of decay occurs at a regular rate and can be measured.
By comparing the amount of carbon 14 remaining in a sample with a modern standard, we can determine when the organism died, as for example, when a shellfish was collected or a tree cut down.
To perform the technique, scientists burn the organic matter in the core at different temperatures.
The stronger chemical bonds in older organic matter cause it to burn at higher temperatures.
It was collected as part of a research initiative organized by the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen in Germany.
The introduction of "old" or "artificial" carbon into the atmosphere (i.e., the "Suess Effect" and "Atom Bomb Effect", respectively) can influence the ages of dates making them appear older or younger than they actually are.
This is a major concern for bone dates where pretreatment procedures must be employed to isolate protein or a specific amino acid such as hydroxyproline (known to occur almost exclusively in bone collagen) to ensure accurate age assessments of bone specimens.
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.
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.