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The stable form of carbon is carbon 12 and the radioactive isotope carbon 14 decays over time into nitrogen 14 and other particles.
Carbon is naturally in all living organisms and is replenished in the tissues by eating other organisms or by breathing air that contains carbon.
C-12 is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C-14.
Since carbon is fundamental to life, occurring along with hydrogen in all organic compounds, the detection of such an isotope might form the basis for a method to establish the age of ancient materials.
At any particular time all living organisms have approximately the same ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 in their tissues.
When an organism dies it ceases to replenish carbon in its tissues and the decay of carbon 14 to nitrogen 14 changes the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14.
The half-life of a radioactive isotope describes the amount of time that it takes half of the isotope in a sample to decay.
In the case of radiocarbon dating, the half-life of carbon 14 is 5,730 years.