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And, if so, has today’s uniform level prevailed throughout the recent past?After showing the essential uniformity of carbon-14 in living material, Libby sought to answer the second question by measuring the radiocarbon level in organic samples dated historically—materials as old as 5,000 years from sources such as Egyptian tombs.Of more recent date was the overcompensating effect of man-made carbon-14 injected into the atmosphere during nuclear bomb testing.

Invasion is probably not the proper word for a component that Libby calculated should be present only to the extent of about one atom in a trillion stable carbon atoms.In this way, the deviations can be compensated for and the carbon-14 age of the sample converted to a much more precise date.Calibration curves have been constructed using dendrochronological data (tree-ring measurements of bristlecone pines as old as 8,200 years); periglacial varve, or annual lake sediment, data (); and, in archaeological research, certain materials of historically established ages.Since Libby’s foundational studies, tens of thousands of carbon-14 measurements of natural materials have been made.Expressed as a fraction of the contemporary level, they have been mathematically converted to ages through Improvements in measurement accuracy and the ever-mounting experience in applying carbon-14 dating have provided superior and more voluminous data with which to better answer Libby’s original questions.

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Fortunately, neither effect has been significant in the case of older samples submitted for carbon-14 dating.

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