Carbon has different isotopes, which are usually not radioactive; C is the radioactive one, its half-life, or time it takes to radioactively decay to one half its original amount, is about 5,730 years.
The relatively short-lived C taken into organic matter is also slightly variable. However, under about 20,000 years the results can be compared with dendrochronology, based on tree rings.
A number of radioactive isotopes are used for this purpose, and depending on the rate of decay, are used for dating different geological periods.
More slowly decaying isotopes are useful for longer periods of time, but less accurate in absolute years.
Burial dating uses the differential radioactive decay of 2 cosmogenic elements as a proxy for the age at which a sediment was screened by burial from further cosmic rays exposure.
Luminescence dating techniques observe 'light' emitted from materials such as quartz, diamond, feldspar, and calcite.
The method was developed by Willard Libby and his colleagues at the University of Chicago in 1949.
By combining multiple geochronological (and biostratigraphic) indicators the precision of the recovered age can be improved.
Geochronology is different in application from biostratigraphy, which is the science of assigning sedimentary rocks to a known geological period via describing, cataloguing and comparing fossil floral and faunal assemblages.
A sequence of paleomagnetic poles (usually called virtual geomagnetic poles), which are already well defined in age, constitutes an apparent polar wander path (APWP).
Such path is constructed for a large continental block.