Carbon-14 moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. It takes 5,730 years for half the carbon-14 to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon-14.After another 5,730 years only one-quarter of the original carbon-14 will remain.Heating an item to 500 degrees Celsius or higher releases the trapped electrons, producing light.This light can be measured to determine the last time the item was heated. Fluctuating levels can skew results – for example, if an item went through several high radiation eras, thermoluminescence will return an older date for the item.The relatively short half-life of carbon-14, 5,730 years, makes the reliable only up to about 50,000 years.The technique often cannot pinpoint the date of an archeological site better than historic records, but is highly effective for precise dates when calibrated with other dating techniques such as tree-ring dating.This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment.This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item.
Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated.
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as Carbon-14, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) dating, which is used to date organic remains.
An additional problem with carbon-14 dates from archeological sites is known as the "old wood" problem.
It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.