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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.
The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.
These isotopes are stable, which is why they are with us today, but unstable isotopes are also present in minute amounts.
The carbon-14 atoms combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which plants absorb naturally and incorporate into plant fibers by photosynthesis.
Animals and people take in carbon-14 by eating the plants.
In this way, atmospheric carbon is distributed throughout the web of life until every living thing has the same ratio of C as the atmosphere. Plants and animals tend to favor lighter nuclei just a bit.
Serious technicians know how to compensate for this preference when dating samples.) With a half life of 5730 years, C in a piece of living organic matter will be the same as it is in the atmosphere but larger than in a piece of dead organic material.