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Some of the methods have internal checks, so that the data themselves provide good evidence of reliability or lack thereof.

These parent isotopes decay to stable daughter isotopes at rates that can be measured experimentally and are effectively constant over time regardless of physical or chemical conditions.

For example, a method based on a parent isotope with a very long half-life, such as C method can only be used to determine the ages of certain types of young organic material and is useless on old granites.

Some methods work only on closed systems, whereas others work on open systems.

The discovery of radioactivity in 1896 by Henri Becquerel, the isolation of radium by Marie Curie shortly thereafter, the discovery of the radioactive decay laws in 1902 by Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, the discovery of isotopes in 1910 by Soddy, and the development of the quantitative mass spectrograph in 1914 by J. Thomson all formed the foundation of modern isotopic dating methods.

But it was not until the late 1950s that all the pieces were in place; by then the phenomenon of radioactivity was understood, most of the naturally occurring isotopes had been identified and their abundance determined, instrumentation of the necessary sensitivity had been developed, isotopic tracers were available in the required quantities and purity, and the half-lives of the long-lived radioactive isotopes were reasonably well known.

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