In principle, any material of plant or animal origin, including textiles, wood, bones and leather, can be dated by its content of carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon in the environment that is incorporated by all living things.
It can be used on objects as old as about 62,000 years.
Atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. Most carbon on Earth exists as the very stable isotope carbon-12, with a very small amount as carbon-13.
Here’s an example using the simplest atom, hydrogen. Carbon-14 is an unstable isotope of carbon that will eventually decay at a known rate to become carbon-12.
Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.
New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years.
They arrived at this conclusion by comparing age estimates obtained using two different methods - analysis of radioactive carbon in a sample and determination of the ratio of uranium to thorium in the sample.