Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology

2017 Edition
| Editors: Allan S. Gilbert

Radiocarbon Dating

  • R. E. TaylorEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4409-0_48


14C dating; Carbon-14 dating


Radiocarbon is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope of carbon used as the basis for a nuclear decay method of inferring age for terminal Pleistocene and Holocene Age organic materials.

Radiocarbon time scale provides a common chronometric time scale of worldwide applicability on a routine basis using the radiocarbon (14C) method. It is effective in age determination for the terminal Pleistocene and, except for the last few centuries, all of the Holocene.


Carbon contains three naturally occurring isotopes, two of which are stable (12C, 13C) and one (14C or radiocarbon) which is, at the nuclear level, naturally unstable or radioactive and decays with a half-life of ~5,700 years. Radiocarbon (14C) dating is an isotopic or nuclear decay method of inferring age for organic materials, and it provides a common chronometric time scale of worldwide applicability for the late Quaternary. The technique is widely viewed as the...

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The preparation of this article was, in part, supported by the Gabrielle O. Vierra Memorial Fund.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Emeritus, Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California, RiversideRiversideUSA