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Forensics

Age written in teeth by nuclear tests

A legacy from above-ground testing provides a precise indicator of the year in which a person was born.

Abstract

Establishing the age at death of individuals is an important step in their identification and can be done with high precision up to adolescence by analysis of dentition, but it is more difficult in adults. Here we show that the amount of radiocarbon present in tooth enamel as a result of nuclear bomb testing during 1955–63 is a remarkably accurate indicator of when a person was born. Age is determined to within 1.6 years, whereas the commonly used morphological evaluation of skeletal remains and tooth wear is sensitive to within 5–10 years in adults.

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Figure 1: Date of birth determined from 14C in teeth.

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Correspondence to Jonas Frisén.

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Competing interests

We have filed a patent application for the described method. We do not have any link to any commercial entity regarding this. However, a patent, if granted, may have value in the future that could be influenced by this publication.

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Spalding, K., Buchholz, B., Bergman, LE. et al. Age written in teeth by nuclear tests. Nature 437, 333–334 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/437333a

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