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In 1958, Hessel de Vries in the Netherlands showed there were systematic anomalies in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings.His explanation was that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had varied over time (by up to one percent).This was all the usual sort of laboratory problem-solving, a matter of sorting out difficulties by studying one or another detail systematically for months.More unusual was the need to collaborate with all sorts of people around the world, to gather organic materials for dating.A stronger field would tend to shield the planet from particles from the Sun, diverting them before they could reach the atmosphere to create carbon-14.and "not very attractive."(8) However, solar specialists knew that the number of particles shot out by the Sun varies with the eleven-year cycle of sunspots.It was an anxious time for scientists whose reputation for accurate work was on the line.
The carbon-14 dates published by different researchers could not be reconciled, leading to confusion and prolonged controversy.
Any contamination of a sample by outside carbon (even from the researcher's fingerprints) had to be fanatically excluded, of course, but that was only the beginning.
Delicate operations were needed to extract a microscopic sample and process it.
To get a mass large enough to handle, you needed to embed your sample in another substance, a "carrier." At first acetylene was used, but some workers ruefully noted that the gas was "never entirely free from explosion, as we know from experience."(4) Ways were found to use carbon dioxide instead.
Frustrating uncertainties prevailed until workers understood that their results had to be adjusted for the room's temperature and even the barometric pressure.
After a creature's death the isotope would slowly decay away over millennia at a fixed rate.