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If a fossil is found between two layers of rock whose ages are known, the fossil's age is thought to be between those two known ages.
Because rock sequences are not continuous, but may be broken up by faults or periods of erosion, it is difficult to match up rock beds that are not directly adjacent.
The carbon-14 decays with its half-life of 5,700 years, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.
By measuring the ratio of the amount of the original radioactive element to the daughter isotope, scientists can determine how many half-lives the element has undergone and from there can figure out the absolute age of the sample.
The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.
These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay.
As soon as a living organism dies, it stops taking in new carbon.
The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 at the moment of death is the same as every other living thing, but the carbon-14 decays and is not replaced.