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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.Thus, one carbon 14 atom exists in nature for every 1,000,000,000,000 C12 atoms in living material.

Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.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.After the organism dies it stops taking in new carbon.However, at the moment of death, the amount of carbon-14 begins to decrease because it is unstable, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.Half of the carbon-14 degrades every 5,730 years as indicated by its half-life.

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