Analysis of Artificial Radiocarbon in Different Skeletal and Dental Tissue Types to Evaluate Date of Death


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Douglas H. Ubelaker, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology, NMNH
MRC 112
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC 20560


ABSTRACT: Radiocarbon dating, with special reference to the modern bomb-curve, can provide useful information to elucidate the date of death of skeletonized human remains. Interpretation can be enhanced with analysis of different types of tissues within a single skeleton because of the known variability of formation times and remodeling rates. Analysis of radiocarbon content of teeth, especially the enamel in tooth crowns, provides information about the date of formation in the childhood years and in consideration of the known timing of tooth formation can be used to estimate the birth date after 1950 ad. Radiocarbon analysis of modern cortical and trabecular bone samples from the same skeleton may allow proper placement on the pre-1963 or post-1963 sides of the bomb-curve as most trabecular bone generally undergoes more rapid remodeling than does most cortical bone. Pre-1963 bone formation would produce higher radiocarbon values for most trabecular bone than for most cortical bone. This relationship is reversed for formation after 1963. Radiocarbon analysis was conducted in this study on dental, cortical, and trabecular bone samples from two adult individuals of known birth (1925 and 1926) and death dates (1995 and 1959). As expected, the dental results correspond to prebomb-curve values reflecting conditions during the childhoods of the individuals. The radiocarbon content of most bone samples reflected the higher modern bomb-curve values. Within the bone sample analyses, the values of the trabecular bone were higher than those of cortical bone and supported the known placement on the pre-1963 side of the bomb-curve.