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28-Nov-2019 16:00

The alternative is to take the original normal distribution of radiocarbon age ranges and use it to generate a histogram showing the relative probabilities for calendar ages.

This has to be done by numerical methods rather than by a formula because the calibration curve is not describable as a formula.

The improvements to these curves are based on new data gathered from tree rings, varves, coral, and other studies.

The curve selected is the northern hemisphere INTCAL13 curve, part of which is shown in the output; the vertical width of the curve corresponds to the width of the standard error in the calibration curve at that point.The INTCAL13 data includes separate curves for the northern and southern hemispheres, as they differ systematically because of the hemisphere effect; there is also a separate marine calibration curve.Once testing has produced a sample age in radiocarbon years, with an associated error range of plus or minus one standard deviation (usually written as ±σ), the calibration curve can be used to derive a range of calendar ages for the sample.Willard Libby, the inventor of radiocarbon dating, pointed out as early as 1955 the possibility that the ratio might have varied over time.

Discrepancies began to be noted between measured ages and known historical dates for artefacts, and it became clear that a correction would need to be applied to radiocarbon ages to obtain calendar dates. As of 2017 this is the most recent version of the standard calibration curve.

However, this method does not make use of the assumption that the original radiocarbon age range is a normally distributed variable: not all dates in the radiocarbon age range are equally likely, and so not all dates in the resulting calendar year age are equally likely.