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He first noted that the cells of all living things contain atoms taken in from the organism's environment, including carbon; all organic compounds contain carbon.Most carbon consists of the isotopes carbon 12 and carbon 13, which are very stable.

Once an organism is dead, however, no new carbon is actively absorbed by its tissues, and its carbon 14 gradually decays.So by measuring carbon 14 levels in an organism that died long ago, researchers can figure out when it died.The procedure of radiocarbon dating can be used for remains that are up to 50,000 years old.Archaeologists have long used carbon-14 dating (also known as radiocarbon dating) to estimate the age of certain objects.Traditional radiocarbon dating is applied to organic remains between 500 and 50,000 years old and exploits the fact that trace amounts of radioactive carbon are found in the natural environment.