magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this.
Radiocarbon is not stable; over time radiocarbon atoms decay into nitrogen atoms.
These long time periods are computed by measuring the ratio of daughter to parent substance in a rock and inferring an age based on this ratio.
This age is computed under the assumption that the parent substance (say, uranium) gradually decays to the daughter substance (say, lead), so the higher the ratio of lead to uranium, the older the rock must be.
Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.
New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years.