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When a date is quoted, the reader should be aware that if it is an uncalibrated date (a term used for dates given in radiocarbon years) it may differ substantially from the best estimate of the actual calendar date, both because it uses the wrong value for the half-life of and each component is also referred to individually as a carbon exchange reservoir.The different elements of the carbon exchange reservoir vary in how much carbon they store, and in how long it takes for the Accumulated dead organic matter, of both plants and animals, exceeds the mass of the biosphere by a factor of nearly 3, and since this matter is no longer exchanging carbon with its environment, it has a ratio having remained the same over the preceding few thousand years.Animals eat the plants, and ultimately the radiocarbon is distributed throughout the biosphere.The ratio of λ is a constant that depends on the particular isotope; for a given isotope it is equal to the reciprocal of the mean-life – i.e.Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years.The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age.

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The use of isochrons rather than model (e.g., plateau) ages mitigates the vagaries associated with uncertain trapped argon isotope ratios, and the importance of strategies to derive statistically valid isochrons is underscored.the average or expected time a given atom will survive before undergoing radioactive decay. The calculations involve several steps and include an intermediate value called the "radiocarbon age", which is the age in "radiocarbon years" of the sample: an age quoted in radiocarbon years means that no calibration curve has been used − the calculations for radiocarbon years assume that the , which for more than a decade after Libby's initial work was thought to be 5,568 years.This was revised in the early 1960s to 5,730 years, which meant that many calculated dates in papers published prior to this were incorrect (the error in the half-life is about 3%).In 1939, Martin Kamen and Samuel Ruben of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley began experiments to determine if any of the elements common in organic matter had isotopes with half-lives long enough to be of value in biomedical research.They synthesized Libby and several collaborators proceeded to experiment with methane collected from sewage works in Baltimore, and after isotopically enriching their samples they were able to demonstrate that they contained radioactive .

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