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Over the past six decades, the amount of radiocarbon in people or their remains depends heavily on when they were born or, more precisely, when their tissues were formed.Forensic anthropologists at The University of Arizona took advantage of this fact in a recent study funded by NIJ.
Traditional radiocarbon dating is applied to organic remains between 500 and 50,000 years old and exploits the fact that trace amounts of radioactive carbon are found in the natural environment.
The new method is based on the fact that over the past 60 years, environmental levels of radiocarbon have been significantly perturbed by mid-20th-century episodes of above-ground nuclear weapons testing.
Before the nuclear age, the amount of radiocarbon in the environment varied little in the span of a century.
The researchers found that year-of-death determinations based on nails were accurate to within three years.
The generally poor post-mortem preservation of soft tissues would be a limiting factor to this approach.
One of the most important dating tools used in archaeology may sometimes give misleading data, new study shows - and it could change whole historical timelines as a result.