Something Old, Something New: Using Carbon-14 Dating to Age Recent Human Remains


We datin cookies to improve your experience with our site. Accept and close More info. Published online 14 September Nature doi: Cold War nuclear-bomb testing may have a beneficial legacy: Radioactive remains from the many blasts detonated during the s and 60s are present in the tooth enamel of people all over the world, allowing examiners to work out when the teeth were formed. The method, developed by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, has already helped Swedish carbon dating teeth to identify six of that country's victims from last year's Asian tsunami.

And it may help with the task of putting names to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The technique works because a burst of nuclear testing in the s, chiefly by the United States and Russia, released huge amounts of carbon dating teeth radioactive isotope carbon into the atmosphere. This was subsequently taken up by crops and teeh plants, thus entering the food chain. This bomb carbon is not dangerous, but it is traceable. Since the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty inwhich banned above-ground nuclear detonations, atmospheric levels of C have been dropping at a known rate.

Someone in middle age, whose teeth were formed in the s, will for example have higher levels of C in their enamel than a teenager, whose teeth were made when there was less carbon around. The dating method can judge a person's age to within 1. This is an improvement on existing methods, such as examining skeletal remains, which is thought to be accurate carboh only years. What's more, the new method gives an actual birth date for the body, rather than simply an age at death.

This could be helpful in situations when it is unclear how long the victim in question has been deceased. Carbon dating teeth alternative method of DNA profiling requires exhaustive analysis datign tissue samples, many of which simply no longer exist. Teeth are far easier to preserve for later examination. Investigators struggling to identify bodies left behind by Hurricane Katrina may also adopt the method.

Victims of drowning can sometimes be hard to identify thanks to water damage, and the flooding may have destroyed some records carbon dating teeth used for identification. As the flurry of Cold War testing recedes into the past, atmospheric carbon levels will eventually tail off to a level where the method will no longer work. My account E-alert sign up RSS feed Subscribe. Michael Hopkin Our teeth pic up trace levels of radioactive carbon from the vegetables we eat. In many cases dental records will have been washed away.

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