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Radiocarbon Analysis of Human Remains: A Review of Forensic Applications


  • Douglas H. Ubelaker Ph.D.

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH, MRC 112, Washington, DC
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      Douglas H. Ubelaker, Ph.D.

      Department of Anthropology

      Smithsonian Institution


      MRC 112

      Washington, DC 20560


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Radiocarbon analysis of organic materials, with the comparison of values with those of the post-1950 modern bomb curve, has proven useful in forensic science to help evaluate the antiquity of evidence. Applications are particularly helpful in the study of human remains, especially with those displaying advanced decomposition of soft tissues. Radiocarbon analysis can reveal if the remains relate to the modern, post-1950 era and if so, also provide information needed to evaluate the death and birth date. Sample selection and interpretation of results must be guided by knowledge of the formation and remodeling of different human tissues, as well as contextual information and the approximate age at death of the individual represented. Dental enamel does not remodel and thus captures dietary radiocarbon values at the time of juvenile formation. Most other human tissues do remodel but at differing rates and therefore collectively offer key information relative to the estimation of the death date.