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Because of the fossil fuel effect, this is not actually the activity level of wood from 1950; the activity would have been somewhat lower.The fossil fuel effect was eliminated from the standard value by measuring wood from 1890, and using the radioactive decay equations to determine what the activity would have been at the year of growth.These errors can be reduced by extending the counting duration: for example, testing a modern benzene sample will find about eight decay events per minute per gram of benzene, and 250 minutes of counting will suffice to give an error of ± 80 years, with 68% confidence.If the benzene sample contains carbon that is about 5,730 years old (the half-life of To be completely accurate, the error term quoted for the reported radiocarbon age should incorporate counting errors not only from the sample, but also from counting decay events for the reference sample, and for blanks.

The results varied widely (though consistently with a normal distribution of errors in the measurements), and included multiple date ranges (of 1σ confidence) that did not overlap with each other.

The calculations to be performed on the measurements taken depend on the technology used, since beta counters measure the sample's radioactivity, whereas accelerator mass spectrometers (AMS) determine the ratio of the three different carbon isotopes in the sample.

Another standard is the use of 1950 as "present", in the sense that a calculation that shows that a sample's likely age is 500 years "before present" means that it is likely to have come from about the year 1450.

This convention is necessary in order to keep published radiocarbon results comparable to each other; without this convention, a given radiocarbon result would be of no use unless the year it was measured was also known—an age of 500 years published in 2010 would indicate a likely sample date of 1510, for example.

In order to allow measurements to be converted to the 1950 baseline, a standard activity level is defined for the radioactivity of wood in 1950.