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From the moment we die the proportion of carbon-14 compared to non-radioactive carbon-12 in what's left of our bodies starts to drop as it gradually turns to nitrogen.And the longer dead things lie around, the lower the carbon-14 levels get.And after 11,460 years (two half-lives), only a quarter of the original carbon-14 atoms are left.After five half-lives (28,650 years) only 1/32 remains.

Radiocarbon may not be perfect, but as any single 30-something can attest, no dating method is.Chemically, carbon-14 is no different from non-radioactive carbon atoms, so it ends up in all the usual carbon places — one trillionth of the carbon atoms in air, plants, animals and us are radioactive.All radioactive atoms eventually decay into something more stable, and carbon-14 decays into nitrogen.So the proportion of carbon-14 inside living things is the same as the proportion of carbon-14 in the atmosphere at that time.But when we stop eating, or when plants stop photosynthesising, our carbon-14 levels no longer get topped up.