Prior to that, they had to depend on more rudimentary and imprecise methods, such as counting the number of rings on a cross-section of tree trunk.
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.
"The radiocarbon dating technique may significantly underestimate the age of sediment for samples older than 30,000 years,” said the authors of the report from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics.
“Thus it is necessary to pay [special] attention when using such old carbon data for palaeoclimatic or archaeological interpretations," they added.
The field of radiocarbon dating has become a technical one far removed from the naive simplicity which characterized its initial introduction by Libby in the late 1940's.
It is, therefore, not surprising that many misconceptions about what radiocarbon can or cannot do and what it has or has not shown are prevalent among creationists and evolutionists - lay people as well as scientists not directly involved in this field.