Radiocarbon Dating

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The fundamental principle behind radiocarbon dating is simple: plants – and by extension animals – take in carbon from the world around them, including a natural amount of radioactive carbon-14 along with carbon-12.

When a creature dies, that absorption stops, and the carbon-14 starts to decay and become nitrogen-14 while the amount of carbon-12 does not change.

By measuring the amount of carbon-14 left relative to carbon-12, researchers can calculate how long ago the creature died.

The technique is used on everything from human bones to clothing, wood and seashells.