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For example, a sample with a true radiocarbon age of 100,000 radiocarbon years will yield a measured radiocarbon age of about 20,000 radiocarbon years if the sample is contaminated with a weight of modern carbon of just 5% of the weight of the sample's carbon.It is not too difficult to supply contaminating radiocarbon since it is present in relatively high concentrations in the air and in the tissues of all living things including any individuals handling the sample.
However, the reason for this is understood and the problem is restricted to only a few special cases, of which freshwater clams are the best-known example.
These two measures of time will only be the same if all of the assumptions which go into the conventional radiocarbon dating technique are valid.
Comparison of ancient, historically dated artifacts (from Egypt, for example) with their radiocarbon dates has revealed that radiocarbon years and calendar years are not the same even for the last 5,000 calendar years.
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First, any instrument which is built to measure radiocarbon has a limit beyond which it cannot separate the signal due to radiocarbon in the sample from the signal due to background processes within the measuring apparatus.