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Most samples require chemical pre-treatment to ensure their purity or to recover particular components of the material.The objective of pre-treatment is to ensure that the carbon being analyzed is native to the sample submitted for dating.
However, when the organism dies, the amount of c14 declines such that the longer the time since death the lower the levels of c14 in organic tissue.Pre-treatment seeks to remove from the sample any contaminating carbon that could yield an inaccurate date.Acids may be used to eliminate contaminating carbonates.Working with several collaboraters, Libby established the natural occurrence of radiocarbon by detecting its radioactivity in methane from the Baltimore sewer.In contrast, methane made from petroleum products had no measurable radioactivity.
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Libby calculated the half-life of c14 as 5568 ± 30 years.