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Radiation counters are used to detect the electrons given off by decaying C-14 as it turns into nitrogen.

The amount of C-14 is compared to the amount of C-12, the stable form of carbon, to determine how much radiocarbon has decayed, thereby dating the artifact.

When researchers find a bone or artifact, how do they know how old it is?

While there are a number of answers to that question, most of which depend largely on the age and surroundings of the item, carbon dating is surely one of the most important.

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You and all other animals are made up of carbon fixed by plants (and nitrogen fixed by bacteria! So, if some of that carbon from plants/water is radioactive, so are you! For carbon-14 radiometric dating to be accurate, a fossil or artifact must be buried to avoid exposure to recently fixed radioactive carbon.After the organism dies, carbon-14 continues to decay without being replaced.To measure the amount of radiocarbon left in a artifact, scientists burn a small piece to convert it into carbon dioxide gas.Limestone (calcium ate) can introduce much older carbon to a sample giving it the appearance of age.

Also, solar flare cycles and cycles in the protective magnetosphere affect how much radioactive carbon is produced in the atmosphere, but these have been relatively constant within the range that carbon dating is accurate (about 60,000 years ± 2,000 years).Exponential Decay Formula: A = A" is the original amount of the radioactive isotope that is measured in the same units as "A." The value "t" is the time it takes to reduce the original amount of the isotope to the present amount, and "k" is the half-life of the isotope, measured in the same units as "t." The applet allows you to choose the C-14 to C-12 ratio, then calculates the age of our skull from the formula above.