Radiocarbon Dating Teeth vs Bones

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Researchers often ask which material is best for radiocarbon dating – bones or teeth. Based on Beta Analytic’s experience, either material can provide the best date. However, the environmental conditions for these materials should be taken into account during sample selection.

Samples Submerged in Water

Bones that have been exposed to water for long periods of time may not have enough collagen. Most of the time, the collagen proteins had been leached out of the bone leaving them unsuitable for radiocarbon dating. Leached bones are commonly white, brittle, or friable that may crumble when slight pressure is exerted on them.

If bones have been exposed to water over a long period of time, it’s likely that the teeth will be more suitable for dating. The tooth enamel will have protected the dentin from loss.

Recommended Sample Sizes

Miami radiocarbon lab Beta Analytic offers AMS dating for bones and teeth. The lab no longer provides radiometric dating for these samples.

For human teeth, preferred samples are single complete incisor or canine. If sending a molar, all 4 roots must be attached. For animal teeth, the sample size depends on the animal. For large mammals, 1 tooth is sufficient. For small animals, please consult the lab regarding the appropriate quantity.

For bones suitable for AMS dating, the Miami-based radiocarbon lab recommends sending 2-10 grams of non-cremated bones or 4-40 grams of cremated bones. As for the type of bones best sent for AMS dating, the lab recommends sending good cortical bone from the larger bones of the body (femur, tibia, upper arm bone, jaw, skull plate and sometimes the ribs). Spongy bones like ball and sockets, vertebra, and the like do not tend to preserve well in harsh conditions and may not yield sufficient collagen for AMS dating.

For bird and fish bones, please consult the lab for sufficient sample size. Sample size of 2-4 grams may not be enough for AMS dating after pretreatment.

Bone Collagen for AMS Dating

Beta Analytic accepts extracted bone collagen for AMS dating, but it will be listed as “organics” in the final report instead of “bone collagen” due to the lab’s ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accreditation limitations. If Beta Analytic did not perform the chemical pretreatments and/or extractions, the lab cannot specifically testify as to the material that was dated because certain steps affecting the sample quality have been outside of its control and scope of its accreditation.

Powdered Bones Not Recommended

The lab highly recommends NOT to send powdered bones. Bones that have been drilled or powdered prior to submission may not lend themselves to a robust pretreatment that can ensure the accuracy of the results. If there is no other choice but to send powdered bones, please make sure that the bones must be cleaned of any adhering or invasive contamination prior to the drilling or powdering. This many times requires both physical abrasion of the surface and chemical treatments.

Beta Analytic AMS Dating Service

For either bones or teeth, the lab’s standard AMS dating service provides results in 14 business days or less. However, a few additional days might be necessary in cases where proteins are weakly preserved or samples require extended communication with the lab.

The Beta Analytic lab is located in Miami, Florida. All analyses/measurements are done in-house. Samples can be sent directly to Miami or to any of its sample forwarding offices worldwide. All samples sent to these offices are forwarded to Miami via overnight courier at Beta’s expense. For inquiries, please email us at or call (1) 305-667-5167.


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