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Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.

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In 2008 we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26,000 years.

Now the curve extends (tentatively) to 50,000 years.

Some of the first radiocarbon dates produced showed that the Scottish tombs were thousands of years older than those in Greece.

The barbarians of the north were capable of designing complex structures similar to those in the classical world.

Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.

Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured.

The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of C, making it incredibly difficult to measure and extremely sensitive to contamination.

In the early years of radiocarbon dating a product’s decay was measured, but this required huge samples (e.g. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS), a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual C atoms in a sample.

From these records a “calibration curve” can be built (see figure 2, below).

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