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Concept: Carbon-14


Almost 150 years after the first identification of Neandertal skeletal material, the cognitive and symbolic abilities of these populations remain a subject of intense debate. We present 99 new Neandertal remains from the Troisième caverne of Goyet (Belgium) dated to 40,500-45,500 calBP. The remains were identified through a multidisciplinary study that combines morphometrics, taphonomy, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dating and genetic analyses. The Goyet Neandertal bones show distinctive anthropogenic modifications, which provides clear evidence for butchery activities as well as four bones having been used for retouching stone tools. In addition to being the first site to have yielded multiple Neandertal bones used as retouchers, Goyet not only provides the first unambiguous evidence of Neandertal cannibalism in Northern Europe, but also highlights considerable diversity in mortuary behaviour among the region’s late Neandertal population in the period immediately preceding their disappearance.

Concepts: Belgium, Northern Europe, Neanderthal, Carbon-14, Psychology, Critical thinking, Radiocarbon dating, Isotope


Carbon-14 measurements on 231 elephant ivory specimens from 14 large ivory seizures (≥0.5 ton) made between 2002 and 2014 show that most ivory (ca 90%) was derived from animals that had died less than 3 y before ivory was confiscated. This indicates that the assumption of recent elephant death for mortality estimates of African elephants is correct: Very little “old” ivory is included in large ivory shipments from Africa. We found only one specimen of the 231 analyzed to have a lag time longer than 6 y. Patterns of trade differ by regions: East African ivory, based on genetic assignments of geographic origin, has a much higher fraction of “rapid” transit than ivory originating in the Tridom region of Cameroon-Gabon-Congo. Carbon-14 is an important tool in understanding patterns of movement of illegal wildlife products.

Concepts: Radiocarbon dating, Carbon-14, African Bush Elephant, Ivory, Asian Elephant, Elephants, Elephant


Tendons are often injured and heal poorly. Whether this is caused by a slow tissue turnover is unknown, since existing data provide diverging estimates of tendon protein half-life that range from 2 mo to 200 yr. With the purpose of determining life-long turnover of human tendon tissue, we used the (14)C bomb-pulse method. This method takes advantage of the dramatic increase in atmospheric levels of (14)C, produced by nuclear bomb tests in 1955-1963, which is reflected in all living organisms. Levels of (14)C were measured in 28 forensic samples of Achilles tendon core and 4 skeletal muscle samples (donor birth years 1945-1983) with accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and compared to known atmospheric levels to estimate tissue turnover. We found that Achilles tendon tissue retained levels of (14)C corresponding to atmospheric levels several decades before tissue sampling, demonstrating a very limited tissue turnover. The tendon concentrations of (14)C approximately reflected the atmospheric levels present during the first 17 yr of life, indicating that the tendon core is formed during height growth and is essentially not renewed thereafter. In contrast, (14)C levels in muscle indicated continuous turnover. Our observation provides a fundamental premise for understanding tendon function and pathology, and likely explains the poor regenerative capacity of tendon tissue.-Heinemeier, K. M., Schjerling, P., Heinemeier, J., Magnusson, S. P., Kjaer, M. Lack of tissue renewal in human adult Achilles tendon is revealed by nuclear bomb (14)C.

Concepts: Carbon-14, Tendons, Achilles tendon, Nuclear weapon, Biology, Accelerator mass spectrometry, Mass spectrometry, Tendon


Even though the faba bean (Vicia faba L.) is among the most ubiquitously cultivated crops, very little is known about its origins. Here, we report discoveries of charred faba beans from three adjacent Neolithic sites in the lower Galilee region, in the southern Levant, that offer new insights into the early history of this species. Biometric measurements, radiocarbon dating and stable carbon isotope analyses of the archaeological remains, supported by experiments on modern material, date the earliest farming of this crop to ~10,200 cal BP. The large quantity of faba beans found in these adjacent sites indicates intensive production of faba beans in the region that can only have been achieved by planting non-dormant seeds. Selection of mutant-non-dormant stock suggests that the domestication of the crop occurred as early as the 11(th) millennium cal BP. Plant domestication| Vicia faba L.| Pre-Pottery Neolithic B| radiocarbon dating| Δ(13)C analysis.

Concepts: Neolithic, Radiocarbon dating, Carbon-14, Vicia, Agriculture, Galilee, Carbon, Vicia faba


The recent establishment of a minimum age estimate of 39.9 ka for the origin of rock art in Sulawesi has challenged claims that Western Europe was the locus for the production of the world’s earliest art assemblages. Tantalising excavated evidence found across northern Australian suggests that Australia too contains a wealth of ancient art. However, the dating of rock art itself remains the greatest obstacle to be addressed if the significance of Australian assemblages are to be recognised on the world stage. A recent archaeological project in the northwest Kimberley trialled three dating techniques in order to establish chronological markers for the proposed, regional, relative stylistic sequence. Applications using optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) provided nine minimum age estimates for fossilised mudwasp nests overlying a range of rock art styles, while Accelerator Mass Spectrometry radiocarbon (AMS 14C) results provided an additional four. Results confirm that at least one phase of the northwest Kimberley rock art assemblage is Pleistocene in origin. A complete motif located on the ceiling of a rockshelter returned a minimum age estimate of 16 ± 1 ka. Further, our results demonstrate the inherent problems in relying solely on stylistic classifications to order rock art assemblages into temporal sequences. An earlier than expected minimum age estimate for one style and a maximum age estimate for another together illustrate that the Holocene Kimberley rock art sequence is likely to be far more complex than generally accepted with different styles produced contemporaneously well into the last few millennia. It is evident that reliance on techniques that produce minimum age estimates means that many more dating programs will need to be undertaken before the stylistic sequence can be securely dated.

Concepts: Mathematical analysis, Spectroscopy, Estimator, Chronology, Geologic time scale, Mass spectrometry, Carbon-14, Accelerator mass spectrometry


Collagen is the dominant organic component of bone and is intimately locked within the hydroxyapatite structure of this ubiquitous biomaterial that dominates archaeological and palaeontological assemblages. Radiocarbon analysis of extracted collagen is one of the most common approaches to dating bone from late Pleistocene or Holocene deposits, but dating is relatively expensive compared to other biochemical techniques. Numerous analytical methods have previously been investigated for the purpose of screening out samples that are unlikely to yield reliable dates including histological analysis, UV-stimulated fluorescence and, most commonly, the measurement of percentage nitrogen (%N) and ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N). Here we propose the use of collagen fingerprinting (also known as Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, or ZooMS, when applied to species identification) as an alternative screening method for radiocarbon dating, due to its ability to provide information on collagen presence and quality, alongside species identification. The method was tested on a series of sub-fossil bone specimens from cave systems on Cayman Brac (Cayman Islands), chosen due to the observable range in diagenetic alteration, and in particular, the extent of mineralisation. Six 14C dates, of 18 initial attempts, were obtained from remains of extinct hutia, Capromys sp. (Rodentia; Capromyidae), recovered from five distinct caves on Cayman Brac, and ranging from 393 ± 25 to 1588 ± 26 radiocarbon years before present (yr BP). All of the bone samples that yielded radiocarbon dates generated excellent collagen fingerprints, and conversely those that gave poor fingerprints also failed dating. Additionally, two successfully fingerprinted bone samples were screened out from a set of 81. Both subsequently generated 14C dates, demonstrating successful utilisation of ZooMS as an alternative screening mechanism to identify bone samples that are suitable for 14C analysis.

Concepts: Carbon-14, Isotope, Carbon, Radiocarbon dating


Radiocarbon content in tree rings can be an excellent proxy of the past incoming cosmic ray intensities to Earth. Although such past cosmic ray variations have been studied by measurements of (14)C contents in tree rings with ≥10-y time resolution for the Holocene, there are few annual (14)C data. There is a little understanding about annual (14)C variations in the past, with the exception of a few periods including the AD 774-775 (14)C excursion where annual measurements have been performed. Here, we report the result of (14)C measurements using the bristlecone pine tree rings for the period from 5490 BC to 5411 BC with 1- to 2-y resolution, and a finding of an extraordinarily large (14)C increase (20‰) from 5481 BC to 5471 BC (the 5480 BC event). The (14)C increase rate of this event is much larger than that of the normal grand solar minima. We propose the possible causes of this event are an unknown phase of grand solar minimum, or a combination of successive solar proton events and a normal grand solar minimum.

Concepts: Carbon-14, Pinus classification, Solar cycle, Dendrochronology, Radiocarbon dating, Pine, Cosmic ray, Bristlecone pine


Above-ground thermonuclear weapons testing from 1952 through 1962 nearly doubled the concentration of radiocarbon ((14)C) in the atmosphere. As a result, organic material formed during or after this period may be radiocarbon-dated using the abrupt rise and steady fall of the atmospheric (14)C concentration known as the bomb-curve. We test the accuracy of accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating of 29 herbivore and plant tissues collected on known dates between 1905 and 2008 in East Africa. Herbivore samples include teeth, tusks, soft tissue, hair, and horn. Tissues formed after 1955 are dated to within 0.3-1.3 y of formation, depending on the tissue type, whereas tissues older than ca. 1955 have high age uncertainties (>17 y) due to the Suess effect. (14)C dating of tissues has applications to stable isotope (paleo)ecology and wildlife forensics. We use data from 41 additional samples to determine growth rates of tusks, molars, and hair, which improve interpretations of serial stable isotope data for (paleo)ecological studies. (14)C dating can also be used to calculate the time interval represented in periodic histological structures in dental tissues (i.e., perikymata), which in turn may be used as chronometers in fossil teeth. Bomb-curve (14)C dating of confiscated animal tissues (e.g., ivory statues) can be used to determine whether trade of the item is legal, because many Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species restrictions are based on the age of the tissue, and thus can serve as a powerful forensic tool to combat illegal trade in animal parts.

Concepts: International trade, Tissues, Atmosphere, Isotope, Accelerator mass spectrometry, Radiocarbon dating, Carbon-14, Mass spectrometry


High-precision measurements of radiocarbon ((14)C) near or below a fraction modern 14C of one (F(14)C ≤ 1) are challenging and costly. An accurate, ultra-sensitive linear absorption approach to detecting (14)C would provide a simple and robust bench-top alternative to off-site accelerator mass spectrometry facilities. Here we report the quantitative measurement of (14)C in gas-phase samples of CO2 with F(14)C < 1 using cavity ring-down spectroscopy in the linear absorption regime. Repeated analysis of CO2 derived from the combustion of either biogenic or petrogenic sources revealed a robust ability to differentiate carbon samples with F(14)C < 1. With a combined uncertainty of (14)C/(12)C = 130 fmol/mol (F(14)C = 0.11), initial performance of the calibration-free instrument is sufficient to investigate a variety of applications in radiocarbon measurement science including the study of biofuels and bioplastics, illicitly traded specimens, bomb dating, and atmospheric transport.

Concepts: Oxygen, Metrology, Measurement, Mass spectrometry, Carbon, Carbon-14, Spectroscopy, Accelerator mass spectrometry


Because hard tissues can be radiocarbon dated, they are key to establishing the archaeological chronologies, palaeoenvironmental reconstructions and historical-biogeographical processes of the last 50,000 years. The advent of accelerator mass spectrometers (AMS) has revolutionized the field of archaeology but routine AMS dating still requires 60-200 mg of bone, which far exceeds that of small vertebrates or remains which hold a patrimonial value (e.g. hominid remains or worked bone artefacts). Here, we present the first radiocarbon dates obtained from minute amounts of bone (3-60 mg) using a MIni CArbon DAting System (MICADAS). An optimized protocol allowed us to extract enough material to produce between 0.2 and 1.0 mg of carbon for graphite targets. Our approach was tested on known-age samples dating back to 40,000 BP, and served as proof of concept. The method was then applied to two archaeological sites where reliable dates were obtained from the single bones of small mammals. These results open the way for the routine dating of small or key bone samples.

Concepts: Archaeology, Isotope, Carbon-14, Carbon, Radiocarbon dating