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Radiocarbon dating tooth enamel
Archaeologists have long used carbon-14 dating (also known as radiocarbon dating) to estimate the age of certain objects.
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.
In contrast, from 1955 to 1963, atmospheric radiocarbon levels almost doubled.
Since then they have been dropping back toward natural levels.
Now, new applications for the technique are emerging in forensics, thanks to research funded by NIJ and other organizations.
In recent years, forensic scientists have started to apply carbon-14 dating to cases in which law enforcement agencies hope to find out the age of a skeleton or other unidentified human remains.
To determine year of birth, the researchers focused on tooth enamel.
Adult teeth are formed at known intervals during childhood.
The researchers found that if they assumed tooth enamel radiocarbon content to be determined by the atmospheric level at the time the tooth was formed, then they could deduce the year of birth.
They found that for teeth formed after 1965, enamel radiocarbon content predicted year of birth within 1.5 years.
Radiocarbon levels in teeth formed before then contained less radiocarbon than expected, so when applied to teeth formed during that period, the method was less precise.