All rights reserved. Radiocarbon dating, made possible by open-air nuclear tests shown in newly declassified videos, is helping scientists pinpoint when elephants were slaughtered. It has long been known that radioactive isotopes in the atmosphere have made carbon dating of all kinds of materials possible. Radioactive carbon released from nuclear bomb tests during the Cold War is one way of dating more recent materials. That method is now being used to help fight the illegal trade in elephant ivory.
A man checks the quality of ivory stocks before an auction at the London docks in January That's something geochemist Kevin Uno is trying to fix. At the University of Utah, Uno worked out a way to "date" a piece of ivory by measuring how much radioactive carbon it contains. Here's how it works.
Nuclear bomb tests in the s and '60s pumped a lot of radiocarbon into the atmosphere. This radioactive carbon went everywhere - including into plants that elephants eat.
A brief history of the ivory trade
Since bomb testing ended in the '60s, that radiocarbon has been slowly dwindling. Scientists can chart its decline year by year.
At the bottom end of a tusk, the wide, fat part is the crucial date - the year the tusk stopped growing, when the elephant died.
George Wittemyera conservation biologist at Colorado State University, collaborated in the research.
Such evidence refutes the common claims of illegal traffickers that the ivory they are selling is from older tusks, harvested before trade bans were put into effect. In fact, poachers sometimes artificially weather or "age" ivory to make it look old.
Radiocarbon dating, theoretically, could see through that deception. It showed that the ivory in the large seizures was, in fact, from quite recently killed elephants. It emphasizes that we need to stop the killing now, because the rate of elephant loss is not sustainable.
We are now doing strontium isotope analyses to help understand where ivory comes from-the DNA provides a general region of origin, and we can further pinpoint the origins using naturally occurring stable isotopes.
How Mid-Century Doomsday Tests May Help Save Elephants Radiocarbon dating, made possible by open-air nuclear tests shown in newly declassified videos, is helping scientists pinpoint when elephants were slaughtered. Nuclear bombs help fight elephant poaching.
Apr 08, Starting July 1, anyone in Japan who wishes to register and sell a whole elephant tusk must first prove its age through carbon dating. According to Ministry of the Environment officials, the new. Jul 02, Radiocarbon Clues Help Track Down Poached Elephant Ivory Nuclear bomb tests in the s and '60s pumped a lot of radiocarbon into the atmosphere. It went Author: Christopher Joyce. Nov 07, Before , the time between the elephant's death and the seizure of the ivory shipment was 8 to 10 months. But after , that time increased to two to three years.
By Rachael Bale. National Geographic spoke with Cerling about his research. Where did the idea to carbon date elephant ivory come from?
How exactly will knowing when an elephant died help in the fight to save elephants? What are the next steps for this research?
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Jul 01, Ivory Trade Drives Elephant Slaughter. International agreements banned most trade of raw ivory from Asian elephants after and African elephants after The elephant never tires carrying its tusks. -Duala proverb from Cameroon refers to responsibility. Ivory is the hard, white material from the tusks and teeth of elephants, hippopotami, walruses, warthogs, sperm whales and narwhals, as well as now extinct mammoths and mastodons.
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Poaching is on the rise - most illegal ivory comes from recently killed elephants.