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Radiocarbon dating is especially good for determining the age of sites occupied within the last 26,000 years or so (but has the potential for sites over 50,000), can be used on carbon-based materials (organic or inorganic), and can be accurate to within ±30-50 years.

Probably the most important factor to consider when using radiocarbon dating is if external factors, whether through artificial contamination, animal disturbance, or human negligence, contributed to any errors in the determinations.

In common with other kinds of mass spectrometry, AMS is performed by converting the atoms in the sample into a beam of fast moving ions (charged atoms).

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The accelerator is used to help remove ions that might be confused with radiocarbon before the final detection.

AMS, on the other hand, can in principle detect a much higher proportion (typically about 1% of the total) allowing sample sizes to be smaller by a factor of about a thousand.

The method is relatively new because it needs very complicated instruments first developed for Nuclear Physics research in the late 20th century.

In contrast to relative dating techniques whereby artifacts were simply designated as "older" or "younger" than other cultural remains based on the presence of fossils or stratigraphic position, 14C dating provided an easy and increasingly accessible way for archaeologists to construct chronologies of human behavior and examine temporal changes through time at a finer scale than what had previously been possible.

The application of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) for radiocarbon dating in the late 1970s was also a major achievement.

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