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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.In order to make allowances for background counts and to evaluate the limits of detection, materials which radiocarbon specialists can be fairly sure contain no activity are measured under identical counting conditions as normal samples.Background samples usually consist of geological samples of infinite age such as coal, lignite, limestone, ancient carbonate, athracite, marble or swamp wood.By measuring the activity of a background sample, the normal radioactivity present while a sample of unknown age is being measured can be accounted for and deducted.
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).
Obviously, the limit of the method differs between laboratories dependent upon the extent to which background levels of radioactivity can be reduced.
Amongst accelerator laboratories there has been mooted the theoretical possibility of extended range dating to 75 000 yr , at present this seems difficult to attain because of the problems in accurately differentiating between ions that mimic the mass and charge characteristics of the C14 atom.
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.
The ratio of the activity of sucrose with 0.95 Ox was first measured by Polach at 1.50070.0052 (Polach, 1976b:122).