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The results of calibration are often given as an age range.

In this case, we might say that we could be 95% sure that the sample comes from between 1375 cal BC and 1129 cal BC.

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To give an example if a sample is found to have a radiocarbon concentration exactly half of that for material which was modern in 1950 the radiocarbon measurement would be reported as 5568 BP.

For two important reasons, this does not mean that the sample comes from 3619 BC: Many types of tree reliably lay down one tree ring every year.

Once calibrated a radiocarbon date should be expressed in terms of cal BC, cal AD or cal BP.

The cal prefix indicates that the dates are the result of radiocarbon calibration using tree ring data.

Carbon-14 is continually formed in nature by the interaction of neutrons with nitrogen-14 in the Earth’s atmosphere; the neutrons required for this reaction are produced by cosmic rays interacting with the atmosphere.

Radiocarbon present in molecules of atmospheric carbon dioxide enters the biological carbon cycle: it is absorbed from the air by green plants and then passed on to animals through the food chain.

If we have a tree that is 500 years old we can measure the radiocarbon in the 500 rings and see what radiocarbon concentration corresponds to each calendar year.

Using very old trees (such as the Bristlecone Pines in the western U. A.), it is possible to make measurements back to a few thousand years ago.

See also ORAU's Explanation of Radiocarbon Results.

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