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The sample must be destroyed in order to measure its c14 content.
The first measurements of radiocarbon were made in screen-walled Geiger counters with the sample prepared for measurement in a solid form.
Bases may be used to remove contaminating humic acids.
Some types of samples require more extensive pre-treatment than others, and these methods have evolved over the first 50 years of radiocarbon dating.
A more recent innovation is the direct counting of c14 atoms by accelerator mass spectrometers (AMS).
The objective of pre-treatment is to ensure that the carbon being analyzed is native to the sample submitted for dating.
During the lifetime of an organism, the amount of c14 in the tissues remains at an equilibrium since the loss (through radioactive decay) is balanced by the gain (through uptake via photosynthesis or consumption of organically fixed carbon).
However, when the organism dies, the amount of c14 declines such that the longer the time since death the lower the levels of c14 in organic tissue.
The ensuing atomic interactions create a steady supply of c14 that rapidly diffuses throughout the atmosphere.
Plants take up c14 along with other carbon isotopes during photosynthesis in the proportions that occur in the atmosphere; animals acquire c14 by eating the plants (or other animals).