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Desmond Clark (1979:7) observed that without radiocarbon dating "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation." And as Colin Renfrew (1973) aptly noted over 30 years ago, the "Radiocarbon Revolution" transformed how archaeologists could interpret the past and track cultural changes through a period in human history where we see among other things the massive migration of peoples settling virtually every major region of the world, the transition from hunting and gathering to more intensive forms of food production, and the rise of city-states.

However, as with any dating technique there are limits to the kinds of things that can be satisfactorily dated, levels of precision and accuracy, age range constraints, and different levels of susceptibility to contamination.

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The application of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) for radiocarbon dating in the late 1970s was also a major achievement.The earliest experiments in radiocarbon dating were done on ancient material from Egypt. Libby’s team obtained acacia wood from the 3rd Dynasty Step Pyramid of Djoser to test a hypothesis they had developed.Libby reasoned that since the half-life of C years, the Djoser sample’s C14 concentration should be about 50% of the concentration found in living wood (for further details, see Arnold and Libby, 1949). Subsequent work with radiocarbon testing raised questions about the fluctuation of atmospheric C14 over time.Please remember that all dating methods, even those termed "absolute," are subject to margins of error. That is a very small amount of possible error range. Modern studies almost always use two or more methods to confirm dating work and to build confidence in the results obtained.Overview of Methods Superposition Stratigraphy Dendrochronology Radiocarbon C14 Radiometric Dating Methods Obsidian Hydration Dating Paleomagnetic/Archaeomagnetic Luminescence Dating Methods Amino Acid Racemization Fission-track Dating Ice Cores Varves Pollens Corals Cation Ratio Fluorine Dating Patination Oxidizable Carbon Ratio Electron Spin Resonance Cosmic-ray Exposure Dating This is an excellent overview of dating methodologies, and is a chapter in a textbook on Archaeology. The Radiocarbon Revolution Since its development by Willard Libby in the 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become one of the most essential tools in archaeology.