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Unfortunately the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 has yet to reach a state of equilibrium in our atmosphere; there is more carbon-14 in the air today than there was thousands of years ago.
In order for carbon dating to be accurate, we must know what the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 was in the environment in which our specimen lived during its lifetime.
As the carbon 14 decays with no possibility of replenishment, the ratio decreases at a regular rate. The measurement of carbon 14 decay provides an indication of the age of any carbon-based material.
Dates may be expressed as either uncalibrated or calibrated years.
By taking a carboniferous specimen of known age (that is, a specimen which we are able to date with reasonable certainty through some archaeological means), scientists are able to determine what the ratio was during a specimen's lifetime.
And if the artifact is organic, like wood or bone, researchers can turn to a method called radiocarbon dating.In addition, there are substantial reservoirs of carbon in organic matter, the ocean, ocean sediments, and sedimentary rock.Changes in the Earth’s climate can affect the carbon flows between these reservoirs and the atmosphere, leading to changes in the atmosphere’s carbon 14 fraction.Libby estimated that the steady state radioactivity concentration of exchangeable carbon 14 would be about 14 disintegrations per minute (dpm) per gram.In 1960, Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.