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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.
All the people whose tissues were tested for the study were residents of the United States.
Atmospheric dispersion tends to create uniform levels of carbon-14 around the globe, and researchers believe that these would be reflected in human tissues regardless of location.
Thus, pupal case radiocarbon content would serve as a decay-resistant proxy for the tissues, yielding the year of death.
To determine year of death, the researchers used radiocarbon levels in soft tissues.
Now, new applications for the technique are emerging in forensics, thanks to research funded by NIJ and other organizations.
In recent years, forensic scientists have started to apply carbon-14 dating to cases in which law enforcement agencies hope to find out the age of a skeleton or other unidentified human remains.
However, the researchers suggested that soft tissue radiocarbon content would be transferred to, and preserved in, the pupal cases of insects whose larvae feed on these tissues.
Such insects are simply another link in the food chain.