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After yet another 5,730 years only one-eighth will be left.

By measuring the carbon-14 in organic material, scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact.

For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as carbon-14, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.

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This is a radiometric technique since it is based on radioactive decay.

Cosmic radiation entering the earth’s atmosphere produces carbon-14, and plants take in carbon-14 as they fix carbon dioxide.

Carbon-14 moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. It takes 5,730 years for half the carbon-14 to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon-14.

After another 5,730 years only one-quarter of the original carbon-14 will remain.

The development of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard.

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