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The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 is the same in all living things.However, at the moment of death, the amount of carbon-14 begins to decrease because it is unstable, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.The Oxalic acid standard which was developed is no longer commercially available. In the early 1980's, a group of 12 laboratories measured the ratios of the two standards.

Age determinations can also be obtained from carbonate deposits such as calcite, dissolved carbon dioxide, and carbonates in ocean, lake, and groundwater sources. Carbon-14 dating can be used on objects ranging from a few hundred years old to 50,000 years old. Libby and others (University of Chicago) devised a method of estimating the age of organic material based on the decay rate of carbon-14. Because during each half-life, carbon loses half of its weight. Much of the information presented in this section is based upon the Stuiver and Polach (1977) paper "Discussion: Reporting of C14 data". 1890 wood was chosen as the radiocarbon standard because it was growing prior to the fossil fuel effects of the industrial revolution.