Radiocarbon dating

Irka Hajdas, Philippa Ascough, Mark H. Garnett, Stewart J. Fallon, Charlotte L. Pearson, Gianluca Quarta, Kirsty L. Spalding, Haruka Yamaguchi, Minoru Yoneda

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Radiocarbon dating uses the decay of a radioactive isotope of carbon (14C) to measure time and date objects containing carbon-bearing material. With a half-life of 5,700 ± 30 years, detection of 14C is a useful tool for determining the age of a specimen formed over the past 55,000 years. In this Primer, we outline key advances in 14C measurement and instrument capacity, as well as optimal sample selection and preparation. We discuss data processing, carbon reservoir age correction, calibration and statistical analyses. We then outline examples of radiocarbon dating across a range of applications, from anthropology and palaeoclimatology to forensics and medical science. Reproducibility and minimum reporting standards are discussed along with potential issues related to accuracy and sensitivity. Finally, we look forwards to the adoption of radiocarbon dating in various fields of research thanks to continued instrument improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number62
JournalNature Reviews Methods Primers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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