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Therefore, he used modern C14 levels to approximate the ancient. Estimated years since a specimen died based on how much C14 was believed to have decayed since the death of the specimen.

The curved line represents the loss of C14 over time due to radioactive decay.

When something dies, it no longer assimilates C14, at least not by the means described above. To test the assumption, the rate that C14 forms in Earth’s atmosphere was estimated (based on measurements from various locations around the globe). The testing indicated that C14 is forming faster than it is decaying.

If an artifact is preserved from physical decay and leaching of chemicals, radioactivity may be the sole means whereby it gradually loses its C14. A simple analogy may be helpful: Suppose water is steadily dripping into a large tub.

Radioactive decay causes once-living specimens to lose half of their C14 atoms in about each 5,730-year half-life.