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Throughout the life of an animal or plant, the amount of C14 is perfectly balanced with that of its surroundings. The C14 in a dead organism slowly decays at a known rate: its "half life".
The half-life of an isotope like C14 is the time it takes for half of it to decay away: in C14, every 5,730 years, half of it is gone.
Libby and a few of his students at the University of Chicago: in 1960, he won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the invention.
It was the first absolute scientific method ever invented: that is to say, the technique was the first to allow a researcher to determine how long ago an organic object died, whether it is in context or not.
We recommend that if at all possible, we take the sample for you.
This allows us to discuss the sampling and measurement procedure with you at the time.
Other organic data sets examined have included varves (layers in sedimentary rock which were laid down annually and contain organic materials, deep ocean corals, speleothems (cave deposits), and volcanic tephras; but there are problems with each of these methods.
But before that, only fragmentary data is available, making it very difficult to definitively date anything older than 13,000 years.
Reliable estimates are possible, but with large /- factors.
Shy of a date stamp on an object, it is still the best and most accurate of dating techniques devised.
All living things exchange the gas Carbon 14 (C14) with the atmosphere around them—animals and plants exchange Carbon 14 with the atmosphere, fish and corals exchange carbon with dissolved C14 in the water.
For example, in Int Cal09's calibration, they discovered evidence that during the Younger Dryas (12,550-12,900 cal BP), there was a shutdown or at least a steep reduction of the North Atlantic Deep Water formation, which was surely a reflection of climate change; they had to throw out data for that period from the North Atlantic and use a different dataset.