Other corrections must be made to account for the proportion of throughout the biosphere (reservoir effects).Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.Because the time it takes to convert biological materials to fossil fuels is substantially longer than the time it takes for its in the atmosphere, which attained a maximum in 1963 of almost twice what it had been before the testing began.Measurement of radiocarbon was originally done by beta-counting devices, which counted the amount of beta radiation emitted by decaying atoms in the sample and not just the few that happen to decay during the measurements; it can therefore be used with much smaller samples (as small as individual plant seeds), and gives results much more quickly.For consistency with these early papers, and to avoid the risk of a double correction for the incorrect half-life, radiocarbon ages are still calculated using the incorrect half-life value.A correction for the half-life is incorporated into calibration curves, so even though radiocarbon ages are calculated using a half-life value that is known to be incorrect, the final reported calibrated date, in calendar years, is accurate.Histories of archaeology often refer to its impact as the "radiocarbon revolution".

Because carbon-14 decays at this constant rate, an estimate of the date at which an organism died can be made by measuring the amount of its residual radiocarbon.

the average or expected time a given atom will survive before undergoing radioactive decay. The calculations involve several steps and include an intermediate value called the "radiocarbon age", which is the age in "radiocarbon years" of the sample: an age quoted in radiocarbon years means that no calibration curve has been used − the calculations for radiocarbon years assume that the , which for more than a decade after Libby's initial work was thought to be 5,568 years.

This was revised in the early 1960s to 5,730 years, which meant that many calculated dates in papers published prior to this were incorrect (the error in the half-life is about 3%).

The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.

The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.