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Histories of archaeology often refer to its impact as the "radiocarbon revolution".Radiocarbon dating has allowed key transitions in prehistory to be dated, such as the end of the last ice age, and the beginning of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in different regions.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.Libby and James Arnold proceeded to test the radiocarbon dating theory by analyzing samples with known ages.

The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age.

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 about 1965 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.

Since the calibration curve (Int Cal) also reports past atmospheric concentration using this conventional age, any conventional ages calibrated against the Int Cal curve will produce a correct calibrated age.

When a date is quoted, the reader should be aware that if it is an uncalibrated date (a term used for dates given in radiocarbon years) it may differ substantially from the best estimate of the actual calendar date, both because it uses the wrong value for the half-life of and each component is also referred to individually as a carbon exchange reservoir.

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