Studying the material remains of past human life and activities may not seem important or exciting to the average Joe unlike the biological sciences. Time is relative. However, there are a number of other factors that can affect the amount of carbon present in a sample and how that information is interpreted by archaeologists. The rate at which the unstable radioactive C isotope decays into the stable non-radioactive N isotope, The ratio of C to C found in a given specimen, And the ratio C to C found in the atmosphere at the time of the specimen's death. Carbon dating assumes a variety of things about the natural world in order to work. The excavator might employ relative dating, using objects located stratigraphically read:
Younger samples have a larger margin of error than older samples.
A New Leap Forward for Radiocarbon Dating
It is when a sample is measured that the real complications begin: Such was the case at these three sites, where wooden and pollen elements could be dated, providing a speculative chronology for the sites as a whole, but even these are subject to error and constant scrutiny by the academic community. And lastly, the ratio of C to C in the atmosphere and hence the ratio in organic remains has fluctuated to a certain extent over the millennia, something that can lead to misleading discrepancies that need to be corrected for.