History of carbon dating
The 14C formed is rapidly oxidised to 14CO2 and enters the earth's plant and animal lifeways through photosynthesis and the food chain.
The rapidity of the dispersal of C14 into the atmosphere has been demonstrated by measurements of radioactive carbon produced from thermonuclear bomb testing.
"Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.
We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].
The radiocarbon method was developed by a team of scientists led by the late Professor Willard F.
Libby of the University of Chicago in immediate post-WW2 years.
The C14 technique has been and continues to be applied and used in many, many different fields including hydrology, atmospheric science, oceanography, geology, palaeoclimatology, archaeology and biomedicine.
There are three principal isotopes of carbon which occur naturally - C12, C13 (both stable) and C14 (unstable or radioactive).
Oakley (1979) suggested its development meant an almost complete re-writing of the evolution and cultural emergence of the human species.
Libby and his team intially tested the radiocarbon method on samples from prehistoric Egypt.