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It is called 'radio'-carbon, because it is 'radioactive'.
This means that its atomic structure is not stable and there is an uneasy relationship between the particles in the nucleus of the atom itself.
Libby later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for the radiocarbon discovery.
Today, there are over 130 radiocarbon dating laboratories around the world producing radiocarbon dates for the scientific community.
Welcome to the K12 section of the Radiocarbon WEBinfo site.
The aim here is to provide clear, understandable information relating to radiocarbon dating for the benefit of K12 students, as well as lay people who are not requiring detailed information about the method of radiocarbon dating itself.
Carbon follows this pathway through the food chain on Earth so that all living things are using carbon, building their bodies until they die.
A tiny part of the carbon on the Earth is called Carbon-14 (C14), or radiocarbon.
We know that it is older than Christendom, but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries, or even by more than a millenium, we can do no more than guess." [Rasmus Nyerup, (Danish antiquarian), 1802 (in Trigger, 19)].
The person who wrote these words lived in the 1800s, many years before archaeologists could accurately date materials from archaeological sites using scientific methods.
They used pottery and other materials in sites to date 'relatively'.
They thought that sites which had the same kinds of pots and tools would be the same age.
The relative dating method worked very well, but only in sites which were had a connection to the relative scale. When radiocarbon dating was developed, it revolutionised archaeology, because it enabled them to more confidently date the past, and to build a more accurate picture of the human past.