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.
It is naturally unstable and so it will spontaneously decay back into N-14 after a period of time.
It takes about 5,730 years for half of a sample of radiocarbon to decay back into nitrogen.
It takes another 5,730 for half of the remainder to decay, and then another 5,730 for half of what's left then to decay and so on.
The period of time that it takes for half of a sample to decay is called a "half-life." Radiocarbon oxidizes (that is, it combines with oxygen) and enters the biosphere through natural processes like breathing and eating.
Plants and animals naturally incorporate both the abundant C-12 isotope and the much rarer radiocarbon isotope into their tissues in about the same proportions as the two occur in the atmosphere during their lifetimes.
When a creature dies, it ceases to consume more radiocarbon while the C-14 already in its body continues to decay back into nitrogen.
So, if we find the remains of a dead creature whose C-12 to C-14 ratio is half of what it's supposed to be (that is, one C-14 atom for every two trillion C-12 atoms instead of one in every trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for about 5,730 years (since half of the radiocarbon is missing, it takes about 5,730 years for half of it to decay back into nitrogen).
If the ratio is a quarter of what it should be (one in every four trillion) we can assume the creature has been dead for 11,460 year (two half-lives).
After about 10 half-lives, the amount of radiocarbon left becomes too miniscule to measure and so this technique isn't useful for dating specimens which died more than 60,000 years ago.