Error and uncertainty in radiocarbon measurements

Scott, E.M. , Cook, G.T. and Naysmith, P. (2007) Error and uncertainty in radiocarbon measurements. Radiocarbon, 49(2), pp. 427-440. (doi: 10.1017/S0033822200042351)

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All measurement is subject to error, which creates uncertainty. Every time that an analytical radiocarbon measurement is repeated under identical conditions on an identical sample (even if this were possible), a different result is obtained. However, laboratories typically make only 1 measurement on a sample, but they are still able to provide an estimate of the analytical uncertainty that reflects the range of values (or the spread) in results that would have been obtained were the measurement to be repeated many times under identical conditions. For a single measured 14C age, the commonly quoted error is based on counting statistics and is used to determine the uncertainty associated with the 14C age. The quoted error will include components due to other laboratory corrections and is assumed to represent the spread we would see were we able to repeat the measurement many times. Accuracy and precision in 14C dating are much desired properties. Accuracy of the measurement refers to the deviation (difference) of the measured value from the true value (or sometimes expected or consensus value), while precision refers to the variation (expected or observed) in a series of replicate measurements. Quality assurance and experimental assessment of these properties occupy much laboratory time through measurement of standards (primary and secondary), reference materials, and participation in interlaboratory trials. This paper introduces some of the most important terms commonly used in 14C dating and explains, through some simple examples, their interpretation.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Naysmith, Mr Phillip and Scott, Professor Marian and Cook, Professor Gordon
Authors: Scott, E.M., Cook, G.T., and Naysmith, P.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
College of Science and Engineering > School of Mathematics and Statistics > Statistics
Journal Name:Radiocarbon
Publisher:University of Arizona
ISSN (Online):1945-5755

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