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Both Carbon-12 and Carbon-13 are stable, but Carbon-14 decays by very weak beta decay to nitrogen-14 with a half-life of approximately 5,730 years.
If its current level is only one quarter of the original estimate, 11,460 years old, and so on. Since scientists aren’t able to take sophisticated equipment back in time to actually measure the C14 concentration when a plant or animal died, it is necessary to estimate.
In order to date the artifact, the amount of Carbon-14 is compared to the amount of Carbon-12 (the stable form of carbon) to determine how much radiocarbon has decayed.
The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 is the same in all living things.
It can be used as a dating tool because creatures and plants accumulate it during their lifetimes, and cease doing so when they die. If four essential facts are known, an age can be calculated with precision.
They are: (1) the C14 concentration in a specimen at its time of death; (2) the decay rate of C14; (3) the current C14 concentration in the specimen being “dated”; and (4) if anything else has affected the specimen’s C14 content. The curved line represents the declining amount of C14 atoms over time due to radioactive decay.
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.