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This means that things like stone, metal and pottery cannot usually be directly dated by this means unless there is some organic material embedded or left as a residue.

As explained below, the radiocarbon date tells us when the organism was alive (not when the material was used).

This fact should always be remembered when using radiocarbon dates.

The dating process is always designed to try to extract the carbon from a sample which is most representative of the original organism.

By measuring the ratio, R, in a sample we can then calculate the age of the sample: T = -8033 ln(R/A) Both of these complications are dealt with by calibration of the radiocarbon dates against material of known age.

Further complications arise when the carbon in a sample has not taken a straightforward route from the atmosphere to the organism and thence to the measured sample.

We will also give advice on the choice of samples for dating and help in the calibration and analysis of dates in context.Because the radiocarbon is radioactive, it will slowly decay away.Obviously there will usually be a loss of stable carbon too but the proportion of radiocarbon to stable carbon will reduce according to the exponential decay law: R = A exp(-T/8033) where R is C ratio of the living organism and T is the amount of time that has passed since the death of the organism.It can be applied to most organic materials and spans dates from a few hundred years ago right back to about 50,000 years ago - about when modern humans were first entering Europe.For radiocarbon dating to be possible, the material must once have been part of a living organism.

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