Carbon-14 is continually being created in the atmosphere due to the action of cosmic rays on nitrogen in the air.Carbon-14 combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide.The methods work because radioactive elements are unstable, and they are always trying to move to a more stable state. This process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation is called radioactive decay.The thing that makes this decay process so valuable for determining the age of an object is that each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life.For example, how do we know that the Iceman, whose frozen body was chipped out of glacial ice in 1991, is 5,300 years old?Well, we know this because samples of his bones and hair and even his grass boots and leather belongings were subjected to radiocarbon dating.With radiocarbon dating, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 is measured.
This provides a built-in cross-check to more accurately determine the age of the sample.
For example, uranium-lead dating can be used to find the age of a uranium-containing mineral.
It works because we know the fixed radioactive decay rates of uranium-238, which decays to lead-206, and for uranium-235, which decays to lead-207.
And this would also include things like trees and plants, which give us paper and cloth.
So, radiocarbon dating is also useful for determining the age of relics, such the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Shroud of Turin.