Nearby, workers also uncovered an assortment of thick and heavily fossilized bones.
In succeeding years many further specimens have been found, not only in the German Neander Valley, but in with rickets, caused by a deficiency of vitamin D.
All radioactive atoms eventually decay into something more stable, and carbon-14 decays into nitrogen.
Familiar to us as the black substance in charred wood, as diamonds, and the graphite in “lead” pencils, carbon comes in several forms, or isotopes.
Everything from the fibres in the Shroud of Turin to Otzi the Iceman has had their birthday determined the carbon-14 way. There's plenty of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen in living things too, but carbon's got something none of them do — a radioactive isotope that can take thousands of years to decay.
(You can read up on radioactivity and isotopes here).
Obviously, this works only for things which were once living.
Radiocarbon dating is used to work out the age of things that died up to 50,000 years ago. As far as working out the age of long-dead things goes, carbon has got a few things going for it. The proteins, carbohydrates and fats that make up much of our tissues are all based on carbon.