Age estimation in forensic sciences: application of combined aspartic acid racemization and radiocarbon analysis.

Molecular & cellular proteomics : MCP

PubMedID: 19965905

Alkass K, Buchholz BA, Ohtani S, Yamamoto T, Druid H, Spalding KL. Age estimation in forensic sciences: application of combined aspartic acid racemization and radiocarbon analysis. Mol Cell Proteomics. 2010;9(5):1022-30.
Age determination of unknown human bodies is important in the setting of a crime investigation or a mass disaster because the age at death, birth date, and year of death as well as gender can guide investigators to the correct identity among a large number of possible matches. Traditional morphological methods used by anthropologists to determine age are often imprecise, whereas chemical analysis of tooth dentin, such as aspartic acid racemization, has shown reproducible and more precise results. In this study, we analyzed teeth from Swedish individuals using both aspartic acid racemization and radiocarbon methodologies. The rationale behind using radiocarbon analysis is that aboveground testing of nuclear weapons during the cold war (1955-1963) caused an extreme increase in global levels of carbon-14 ((14)C), which has been carefully recorded over time. Forty-four teeth from 41 individuals were analyzed using aspartic acid racemization analysis of tooth crown dentin or radiocarbon analysis of enamel, and 10 of these were split and subjected to both radiocarbon and racemization analysis. Combined analysis showed that the two methods correlated well (R(2) = 0.66, p < 0.05). Radiocarbon analysis showed an excellent precision with an overall absolute error of 1.0 +/- 0.6 years. Aspartic acid racemization also showed a good precision with an overall absolute error of 5.4 +/- 4.2 years. Whereas radiocarbon analysis gives an estimated year of birth, racemization analysis indicates the chronological age of the individual at the time of death. We show how these methods in combination can also assist in the estimation of date of death of an unidentified victim. This strategy can be of significant assistance in forensic casework involving dead victim identification.