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All D14C values are normalized to the base value of -25.0 per mille with respect to the standard carbonate (VPDB).
D14C is calculated using: Figure 1: Decay curve for C14 showing the activity at one half-life (t/2).
A time-independent level of C14 activity for the past is assumed in the measurement of a CRA.
The activity of this hypothetical level of C14 activity is equal to the activity of the absolute international radiocarbon standard.
Background samples usually consist of geological samples of infinite age such as coal, lignite, limestone, ancient carbonate, athracite, marble or swamp wood.
Thus, %Modern becomes a useful term in describing radiocarbon measurements for the past 45 years when, due to the influx of artificial radiocarbon into the atmosphere as a result of nuclear bomb testing the 'age' calculation becomes a 'future' calculation.
If the sample approaches D14C = -1000 per mille within 2 standard deviations, it is considered to be indistinguishable from the laboratory background, ie, not able to be separated with confidence from the laboratory countrates which result from a sample which contains no radionuclide. An example of a minimum age is 50, 000 yr (Gupta and Polach, 1985).
Beukens (1994) for instance has stated that this means the limit of the range for his Isotrace laboratory is 60 000 yr which is very similar to the conventional range.
Figure 1: This gif shows the comparison in radioactivity between a sample, or unknown (green area) , a modern standard (dark blue) and a background (small red peaks) derived from beta decay. A radiocarbon measurement, termed a conventional radiocarbon age (or CRA) is obtained using a set of parameters outlined by Stuiver and Polach (1977), in the journal Radiocarbon.
Another standard, Oxalic Acid II was prepared when stocks of HOx 1 began to dwindle. The ratio of the activity of Oxalic acid II to 1 is 1.29330.001 (the weighted mean) (Mann, 1983). There are other secondary radiocarbon standards, the most common is ANU (Australian National University) sucrose.