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.
d14C represents the per mille depletion in sample carbon 14 prior to isotopic fractionation correction and is measured by: D14C represents the 'normalized' value of d14C.
'Normalized' means that the activity is scaled in relation to fractionation of the sample, or its delta C13 value.
Figure 1: This gif shows the comparison in radioactivity between a sample, or unknown (green area) , a modern standard (dark blue) and a background (small red peaks) derived from beta decay. A radiocarbon measurement, termed a conventional radiocarbon age (or CRA) is obtained using a set of parameters outlined by Stuiver and Polach (1977), in the journal Radiocarbon.Much of the information presented in this section is based upon the Stuiver and Polach (1977) paper "Discussion: Reporting of C14 data". 1890 wood was chosen as the radiocarbon standard because it was growing prior to the fossil fuel effects of the industrial revolution.A copy of this paper may be found in the Radiocarbon Home Page The radiocarbon age of a sample is obtained by measurement of the residual radioactivity. T (National Institute of Standards and Technology; Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA) Oxalic Acid I (C). The activity of 1890 wood is corrected for radioactive decay to 1950. Ninety-five percent of the activity of Oxalic Acid from the year 1950 is equal to the measured activity of the absolute radiocarbon standard which is 1890 wood. This is the International Radiocarbon Dating Standard.