Scientists Date Corpses by Looking into Their Eyes

Illustration for article titled Scientists Date Corpses by Looking into Their Eyes

A team of Danish researchers has discovered a way of dating dead bodies via the corpse's eye using a nuclear particle accelerator. The procedure, which measures the amount of a carbon isotope in the eye lens, has been made possible because of atomic weapons testing half a century ago. The technique only works for people born after 1950 and will only be valid until levels of the carbon isotype have returned to normal—probably 100 years. Here's how it works.


In the first couple of years of an individual's life, the carbon isotope C-14, discovered in the 40s, forms transparent proteins, or lens crystallines, which enable sight. These remain unchanged—rather like dental enamel— for the rest of a person's life. By measuring the level of C-14 in the person's eye, and comparing it to records of levels in the atmosphere, the corpse can be dated.

The team, from the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, thinks that, as well as being a forensic breakthrough, the method will be able to tell us more about the behaviour of cancerous cells.

"We think that carbon dating of proteins and other molecules in the body could be used to study when certain tissues are generated or regenerated," says Associate Professor Niels Lynnerup from the Dept of Forensic Sciences in Denmark. "This could, for example, be applied to cancer tissue and cancer cells. Calculating the amount of C-14 in these tissues could tell us when the cancerous tissue is formed and this could further our understanding of such diseases." [Telegraph]


C-14 has actually be present in our bodies all along, since it's a naturally occuring isotope. what this does is tell you when a person was born by the ratio of C-14 to C-12 in the body, which has been consistently slowly decreasing back to normal levels since the spate of nuclear weapons testing. that ratio is captured when your eyes develop.

@baltwade: it tells you when they were born. which makes we wonder a bit how this will help in forensics, unless we're talking about an unrecognizable body and you're looking for how old the person is.