When an organism dies it ceases to replenish carbon in its tissues and the decay of carbon 14 to nitrogen 14 changes the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14.Experts can compare the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 in dead material to the ratio when the organism was alive to estimate the date of its death.The unstable carbon-14 gradually decays to carbon-12 at a steady rate. Scientists measure the ratio of carbon isotopes to be able to estimate how far back in time a biological sample was active or alive.
When finding the age of an organic organism we need to consider the half-life of carbon 14 as well as the rate of decay, which is –0.693.
For example, say a fossil is found that has 35% carbon 14 compared to the living sample. We can use a formula for carbon 14 dating to find the answer.
Because the cosmic ray bombardment is fairly constant, there’s a near-constant level of carbon-14 to carbon-12 ratio in Earth’s atmosphere.
Organisms at the base of the food chain that photosynthesize – for example, plants and algae – use the carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.
Radiocarbon dating can be used on samples of bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers.