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.

Thus, %Modern becomes a useful term in describing radiocarbon measurements for the past 45 years when, due to the influx of artificial radiocarbon into the atmosphere as a result of nuclear bomb testing the 'age' calculation becomes a 'future' calculation.

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).

Standard errors released with each radiocarbon assay (see below) are usually rounded by convention (Stuiver and Polach, 1977).

Aon is the activity in counts per minute of the modern standard, Asn is the equivalent cpm for the sample. A CRA embraces the following recommended conventions: correction for sample isotopic fractionation (delta C13) to a normalized or base value of -25.0 per mille relative to the ratio of C12/C13 in the carbonate standard VPDB (more on fractionation and delta C13); Three further terms are sometimes given with reported radiocarbon dates. All are expressed in per mille notation rather than per cent notation (%).

The Oxalic acid standard was made from a crop of 1955 sugar beet. The isotopic ratio of HOx I is -19.3 per mille with respect to (wrt) the PBD standard belemnite (Mann, 1983). T designation SRM 4990 C) was made from a crop of 1977 French beet molasses.

The Oxalic acid standard which was developed is no longer commercially available. In the early 1980's, a group of 12 laboratories measured the ratios of the two standards.

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.