Radiocarbon dating is a method of estimating the age of organic material.
In order to date the artifact, the amount of Carbon-14 is compared to the amount of Carbon-12 (the stable form of carbon) to determine how much radiocarbon has decayed.
The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 is the same in all living things.
The carbon-14 atoms combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which plants absorb naturally and incorporate into plant fibers by photosynthesis.
Animals and people take in carbon-14 by eating the plants.
Writing of the European Upper Palaeolithic, Movius (1960) concluded that "time alone is the lens that can throw it into focus".
The radiocarbon method was developed by a team of scientists led by the late Professor Willard F.
Libby and coworkers, and it has provided a way to determine the ages of different materials in archeology, geology, geophysics, and other branches of science.
Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.
Oakley (1979) suggested its development meant an almost complete re-writing of the evolution and cultural emergence of the human species.
Desmond Clark (1979) wrote that were it not for radiocarbon dating, "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation" (Clark, 1979:7).
Today, there are over 130 radiocarbon dating laboratories around the world producing radiocarbon assays for the scientific community.