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Refer to the links for a page describing the process.
The universe is full of naturally occurring radioactive elements.
the average or expected time a given atom will survive before undergoing radioactive decay. The calculations involve several steps and include an intermediate value called the "radiocarbon age", which is the age in "radiocarbon years" of the sample: an age quoted in radiocarbon years means that no calibration curve has been used − the calculations for radiocarbon years assume that the , which for more than a decade after Libby's initial work was thought to be 5,568 years.
This was revised in the early 1960s to 5,730 years, which meant that many calculated dates in papers published prior to this were incorrect (the error in the half-life is about 3%).
The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.
The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained.
Animals eat the plants, and ultimately the radiocarbon is distributed throughout the biosphere.
Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.
The method was developed by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists.
Libby received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 1960.
Radioactive atoms are inherently unstable; over time, radioactive "parent atoms" decay into stable "daughter atoms." When molten rock cools, forming what are called igneous rocks, radioactive atoms are trapped inside. By measuring the quantity of unstable atoms left in a rock and comparing it to the quantity of stable daughter atoms in the rock, scientists can estimate the amount of time that has passed since that rock formed.
Fossils are generally found in sedimentary rock not igneous rock.
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Sedimentary rocks can be dated using radioactive carbon, but because carbon decays relatively quickly, this only works for rocks younger than about 50 thousand years.