Carbon dating work
When an organism dies (whether plant or animal) its intake of carbon atoms ceases.
The starting ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon is locked in at that point. The purpose in each of these methods is to determine the ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon in the sample.
The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.
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Radiocarbon dating is a valuable tool to chronologists and archaeologists.
It provides an objective, absolute method of determining a sample's age with quantifiable precision.
Carbon-14 is radioactive, with a half-life of about 5,700 years.
For more information on cosmic rays and half-life, as well as the process of radioactive decay, see How Nuclear Radiation Works.
The ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon atoms in the atmosphere has varied in the past.