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There are three principal techniques used to measure carbon 14 content of any given sample— gas proportional counting, liquid scintillation counting, and accelerator mass spectrometry.

Gas proportional counting is a conventional radiometric dating technique that counts the beta particles emitted by a given sample. In this method, the carbon sample is first converted to carbon dioxide gas before measurement in gas proportional counters takes place.

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As explained below, the radiocarbon date tells us when the organism was alive (not when the material was used).

This fact should always be remembered when using radiocarbon dates.

Further complications arise when the carbon in a sample has not taken a straightforward route from the atmosphere to the organism and thence to the measured sample.

An age could be estimated by measuring the amount of carbon-14 present in the sample and comparing this against an internationally used reference standard.

Radiocarbon dating is essentially a method designed to measure residual radioactivity.