The University of Arizona

Bomb-Pulse Dating of Human Material: Modeling the Influence of Diet

E Georgiadou, K Stenstrom


The atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons during the 1950s and early 1960s produced large amounts of radiocarbon. This 14C bomb pulse provides useful age information in numerous scientific fields, e.g. in geosciences and environmental sciences. Bomb-pulse dating can also be used to date human material (e.g. in forensics and medical science). Bomb-pulse dating relies on precise measurements of the declining 14C concentration in atmospheric carbon dioxide collected at clean-air sites. However, local variations in the 14C specific activity of air and foodstuffs occur, which are caused by natural processes as well as by various human activities. As 14C enters the human body mainly through the diet, variations of 14C concentration in foodstuffs need to be considered. The marine component of the diet is believed to be of particular importance due to the non-equilibrium in 14C specific activity between the atmosphere and aquatic reservoirs during the bomb pulse. This article reviews the 14C concentration in marine foodstuffs during the bomb-pulse era, and models how the marine component in one's diet can affect the precision of bomb-pulse dating of human material.

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