Finally, and perhaps a little unexpectedly, readings can be thrown out by seemingly unrelated external factors—such as the diets of those whose bones are being tested. One recent case involved the long-running debate over whether syphilis originated in the New World or the Old. Archeologists in Hull, in the north of England, found that monks in a monastery graveyard had suffered from syphilis, but the initial conclusion that the monks had done so before Columbus's voyage was cast into doubt by the realization that they had eaten a lot of fish, which could make their bones appear to be older than in fact they were. The monks may well have had syphilis, but how it got to them, and when, remain tantalizingly unresolved.
Because of the accumulated shortcomings of carbon-14, scientists devised other methods of dating ancient materials, among them thermoluminesence, which measures electrons trapped in clays, and electron spin resonance, which involves bombarding a sample with electromagnetic waves and measuring the vibrations of the electrons. But even the best of these could not date anything older than about 200,000 years, and they couldn't date inorganic materials like rocks at all, which is of course what you need if you wish to determine the age of your planet.
The problems of dating rocks were such that at one point almost everyone in the world had given up on them. Had it not been for a determined English professor named Arthur Holmes, the quest might well have fallen into abeyance altogether.