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Plants and animals naturally incorporate both the abundant C-12 isotope and the much rarer radiocarbon isotope into their tissues in about the same proportions as the two occur in the atmosphere during their lifetimes.When a creature dies, it ceases to consume more radiocarbon while the C-14 already in its body continues to decay back into nitrogen.

It takes about 5,730 years for half of a sample of radiocarbon to decay back into nitrogen.The amount of cosmic rays penetrating the earth's atmosphere is itself affected by things like the earth's magnetic field which deflects cosmic rays.Precise measurements taken over the last 140 years have shown a steady decay in the strength of the earth's magnetic field.So, if we find the remains of a dead creature whose C-12 to C-14 ratio is half of what it's supposed to be (that is, one C-14 atom for every two trillion C-12 atoms instead of one in every trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for about 5,730 years (since half of the radiocarbon is missing, it takes about 5,730 years for half of it to decay back into nitrogen).If the ratio is a quarter of what it should be (one in every four trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for 11,460 year (two half-lives).This man-made fluctuation wasn't a natural occurrence, but it demonstrates the fact that fluctuation is possible and that a period of natural upheaval upon the earth could greatly affect the ratio.Volcanoes spew out CO which could just as effectively decrease the ratio.But that assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock.The clock was initially calibrated by dating objects of known age such as Egyptian mummies and bread from Pompeii; work that won Willard Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.Specimens which lived and died during a period of intense volcanism would appear older than they really are if they were dated using this technique.The ratio can further be affected by C-14 production rates in the atmosphere, which in turn is affected by the amount of cosmic rays penetrating the earth's atmosphere.

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  1. Dec 8, 2016. Known as radiocarbon dating, this method provides objective age estimates for carbon-based objects that originated from living organisms. The method is now used routinely throughout archaeology, geology and other sciences to determine the age of ancient carbon-based objects that originated from.

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