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A hydrocarbon found in beach sediments, for example, might derive from an oil spill or from waxes produced by plants.
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It is fixed by vegetation during photosynthesis and subsequently enters the food chain.
The isotope is unstable with a half life of 5730 years, so in dead organic material the concentration halves every 5730 years.
The rate at which C atoms, half of them will decay in 5730 years.Radiocarbon dating was the first chronometric technique widely available to archaeologists and was especially useful because it allowed researchers to directly date the panoply of organic remains often found in archaeological sites including artifacts made from bone, shell, wood, and other carbon based materials.In contrast to relative dating techniques whereby artifacts were simply designated as "older" or "younger" than other cultural remains based on the presence of fossils or stratigraphic position, 14C dating provided an easy and increasingly accessible way for archaeologists to construct chronologies of human behavior and examine temporal changes through time at a finer scale than what had previously been possible.Levels of C can represent either mixtures of modern and dead carbon or carbon that was fixed from the atmosphere less than 50,000 years ago.Signals of this kind are often used by chemists studying natural environments.
Since this rate is slow relative to the movement of carbon through food chains (from plants to animals to bacteria) all carbon in biomass at earth's surface contains atmospheric levels of C is present at atmospheric levels, the molecule must derive from a recent plant product.