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So detecting the subtle change in the ratio of normal to naturally occurring radioactive carbon over just a few years is incredibly hard.But Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, says it can be done if one takes advantage of the signal left by nuclear testing, which spewed high levels of carbon-14 into the air during the Cold War.By the time a halt was called to aboveground nuclear testing in 1963, levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had doubled beyond natural background levels, says Frisén. By taking this into account, one can see detectable changes in levels of carbon-14 in modern DNA, he says."Most molecules of the cell will turn over all the time.But as more dates became available, Egyptologists, who had hieroglyphic records back thousands of years, began to recognize that C-14 dates were generally too young.
There are several caves still intact, which the owner used for storage purposes." The site's history is muddled partly because of the activities of William Goodwin, who became convinced that the location was proof that Irish monks (the Culdees) had lived there long before the time of Christopher Columbus, a concept he sought to publicize.
The C-14 method cannot be used on material more than about 50,000 years old because of this short half-life.