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Carbon-14 is a method used for young (less than 50,000 year old) sedimentary rocks.
This method relies on the uptake of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope of carbon, carbon-14 by all living things.
The object's approximate age can then be figured out using the known rate of decay of the isotope.
Today, with the help of isotopic dating methods, we can determine the ages of rocks nearly as well as we map the rocks themselves.
For that we can thank radioactivity, discovered at the turn of the last century.
In terms of the numbers of atoms present, it is as if apples changed spontaneously into oranges at a fixed and known rate.
In this analogy, the apples would represent radioactive, or parent, atoms, while the oranges would represent the atoms formed, the so-called daughters.
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The particles given off during the decay process are part of a profound fundamental change in the nucleus.