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The implications of this for the accepted chronologies built on radiocarbon-dating of skeletal material, and the understanding of burial practice in prehistory, are profound (Smith 2013).
A further pitfall can be seen in the less precise determinations and the resulting wide date ranges being used to construct chronologies.
Source Walker 2005 Figure 2.5 It used to be the case, before mass spectrometry was invented, that a limitation of the applicability of radiocarbon dating was due to the large sample sizes required in order to obtain a statistically-valid count of the beta decay.
With Accelerometer Mass Spectrometry, the ratios of the various isotopes of Carbon are measured directly and the amount of C calculated from the ratios, rather than relying on detecting the decay of the radionuclide.
One of the problems with the radiocarbon dating of ecofacts, or of small artefacts found within soil, is that of bioturbation.
As might be expected, each of the techniques has limitations and conditions under which it can be applied; it is when the technique is applied to conditions outside these limitations, perhaps for reasons of interpretative determinism, that the integrity of the technique is undermined.
This essentially means that the original estimated figure of the amount of C in the sample is then subjected to further estimations of factors that might affect the accuracy of that original determination.
As time progresses it is hoped that these estimations may become more sophisticated, but it is perhaps fair to say that Radiocarbon dating is not so much measurement as an exercise in statistical analysis.
Figure 2: Changes in chitin chemistry during pre-treatment for 14C dating. 2001 Table 3 Errors can obviously also creep in due to contamination, whether in the laboratory, or at the point at which the sample is taken.
This is especially a problem with material that has been stored sub-optimally, handled with unclean hands, or treated with organic chemicals for conservation purposes (Pohl et al. Unlike dendrochronology, which relies on multiple correspondences to provide a solid chronology (as discussed later), radiocarbon dating has no inbuilt self-test mechanism, so errors of this sort are hard to detect and hard to quantify.An interesting example of this was the evidence for Bronze Age mummies at Cladh Hallan (Parker Pearson et al.