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Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.

New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years.

It is too soon to know whether the discovery will seriously upset the estimated dates of events like the arrival of human beings in the Western Hemisphere, scientists said.

But it is already clear that the carbon method of dating will have to be recalibrated and corrected in some cases.

Other corrections must be made to account for the proportion of throughout the biosphere (reservoir effects).

Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.

The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.

Radiocarbon dating is one of the best known archaeological dating techniques available to scientists, and the many people in the general public have at least heard of it.

But there are many misconceptions about how radiocarbon works and how reliable a technique it is.

Scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Laboratory of Columbia University at Palisades, N.

Y., reported today in the British journal Nature that some estimates of age based on carbon analyses were wrong by as much as 3,500 years.