Carbon dating used determine age
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.
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.
Atmospheric dispersion tends to create uniform levels of carbon-14 around the globe, and researchers believe that these would be reflected in human tissues regardless of location.
However, the researchers suggested that soft tissue radiocarbon content would be transferred to, and preserved in, the pupal cases of insects whose larvae feed on these tissues.
Such insects are simply another link in the food chain.
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.