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Radiocarbon dating was invented in the 1950s by the American chemist Willard F.Libby and a few of his students at the University of Chicago: in 1960, he won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the invention.

Reimer and colleagues point out that Int Cal13 is just the latest in calibration sets, and further refinements are to be expected.

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.

Given relatively pristine circumstances, a radiocarbon lab can measure the amount of radiocarbon accurately in a dead organism for as long as 50,000 years ago; after that, there's not enough C14 left to measure. Carbon in the atmosphere fluctuates with the strength of earth's magnetic field and solar activity.

You have to know what the atmospheric carbon level (the radiocarbon 'reservoir') was like at the time of an organism's death, in order to be able to calculate how much time has passed since the organism died.

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.

Shy of a date stamp on an object, it is still the best and most accurate of dating techniques devised.So, in other words, we have a pretty solid way to calibrate raw radiocarbon dates for the most recent 12,594 years of our planet's past.But before that, only fragmentary data is available, making it very difficult to definitively date anything older than 13,000 years.At Herculaneum, nuts in large quantity, hulls, almonds, figs and other edible material were found.Ciarallo and Carolis indicate that the almonds mature at the end of August and that figs ripen at the end of the month as well.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.

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