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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.
Barring any future nuclear detonations, this method should continue to be useful for year-of-birth determinations for people born during the next 10 or 20 years.
Everyone born after that would be expected to have the same level of carbon-14 that prevailed before the nuclear testing era.
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.
Willard Libby (1908–1980), a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, began the research that led him to radiocarbon dating in 1945.
He was inspired by physicist Serge Korff (1906–1989) of New York University, who in 1939 discovered that neutrons were produced during the bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays.
To determine year of death, the researchers used radiocarbon levels in soft tissues.
However, more testing is needed to confirm that belief. 269, March 2012NCJ 237722 Philip Bulman is a writer and editor at NIJ.
Danielle Mc Leod-Henning is a program manager and physical scientist at NIJ.
In contrast, from 1955 to 1963, atmospheric radiocarbon levels almost doubled.
Since then they have been dropping back toward natural levels.