Because it reacts identically to C-12 and C-13, C-14 becomes attached to complex organic molecules through photosynthesis in plants and becomes part of their molecular makeup.
Animals eating those plants in turn absorb Carbon-14 as well as the stable isotopes.
It takes about 5,730 years for half of a sample of radiocarbon to decay back into nitrogen.
This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature.
C-12 is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C-14.
The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.
The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.