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.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).
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).
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.
As 14C decays it emits a weak beta particle (b ), or electron, which possesses an average energy of 160ke V.
The decay can be shown: Thus, the 14C decays back to 14N.A sample of acacia wood from the tomb of the pharoah Zoser (or Djoser; 3rd Dynasty, ca. Libby reasoned that since the half-life of C years, they should obtain a C14 concentration of about 50% that which was found in living wood (see Libby, 1949 for further details).The results they obtained indicated this was the case."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)].Libby later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960: (From Taylor, 1987).