Complexities in the Use of Bomb-Curve Radiocarbon to Determine Time Since Death of Human Skeletal Remains

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Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons during the 1950s and early 1960s doubled the level of radiocarbon ({sup 14}C) in the atmosphere. From the peak in 1963, the level of {sup 14}CO{sub 2} has decreased exponentially with a mean life of about 16 years, not due to radioactive decay, but due to mixing with large marine and terrestrial carbon reservoirs. Since radiocarbon is incorporated into all living things, the bomb-pulse is an isotopic chronometer of the past half century. The absence of bomb radiocarbon in skeletonized human remains generally indicates a date of death before 1950. Comparison of the radiocarbon values ... continued below

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Ubelaker, D H & Buchholz, B A April 26, 2005.

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Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons during the 1950s and early 1960s doubled the level of radiocarbon ({sup 14}C) in the atmosphere. From the peak in 1963, the level of {sup 14}CO{sub 2} has decreased exponentially with a mean life of about 16 years, not due to radioactive decay, but due to mixing with large marine and terrestrial carbon reservoirs. Since radiocarbon is incorporated into all living things, the bomb-pulse is an isotopic chronometer of the past half century. The absence of bomb radiocarbon in skeletonized human remains generally indicates a date of death before 1950. Comparison of the radiocarbon values with the post 1950 bomb-curve may also help elucidate when in the post 1950 era, the individual was still alive. Such interpretation however, must consider the age at death of the individual and the type of tissue sampled.

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PDF-file: 13 pages; size: 0.2 Mbytes

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  • Journal Name: Forensic Science Communications; Journal Volume: 8; Journal Issue: 10

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  • Report No.: UCRL-JRNL-212160
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 878206
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc879712

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  • April 26, 2005

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  • Sept. 21, 2016, 2:29 a.m.

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  • Nov. 23, 2016, 11:14 a.m.

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Ubelaker, D H & Buchholz, B A. Complexities in the Use of Bomb-Curve Radiocarbon to Determine Time Since Death of Human Skeletal Remains, article, April 26, 2005; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc879712/: accessed September 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.