In principle, any material of plant or animal origin, including textiles, wood, bones and leather, can be dated by its content of carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon in the environment that is incorporated by all living things.Because it is radioactive, carbon 14 steadily decays into other substances. The Radiocarbon Revolution Since its development by Willard Libby in the 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become one of the most essential tools in archaeology.Radiocarbon dating was the first chronometric technique widely available to archaeologists and was especially useful because it allowed researchers to directly date the panoply of organic remains often found in archaeological sites including artifacts made from bone, shell, wood, and other carbon based materials.The age of the carbon in the rock is different from that of the carbon in the air and makes carbon dating data for those organisms inaccurate under the assumptions normally used for carbon dating.This restriction extends to animals that consume seafood in their diet.
New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years.
This process of ingesting C-14 continues as long as the plant or animal remains alive.
The C-14 within an organism is continually decaying into stable carbon isotopes, but since the organism is absorbing more C-14 during its life, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 remains about the same as the ratio in the atmosphere.
As the Earth's upper atmosphere is bombarded by cosmic radiation, atmospheric nitrogen is broken down into an unstable isotope of carbon - carbon 14 (C-14).
The unstable isotope is brought to Earth by atmospheric activity, such as storms, and becomes fixed in the biosphere.