But one significant problem clouded the excitement over the discovery: The team doesn’t know how old the fossils are.
And without that age, it’s hard to know how fits into the story of human evolution, or how to interpret its apparent habit of deliberately burying its own kind.
An archaeologist’s staple is radiocarbon dating: judging the age of an organic sample from its carbon-14 – also known as radiocarbon – content.
Around 99% of carbon on earth is carbon-12 – atoms with six protons and six neutrons in its nucleus.
Now, new applications for the technique are emerging in forensics, thanks to research funded by NIJ and other organizations.
In recent years, forensic scientists have started to apply carbon-14 dating to cases in which law enforcement agencies hope to find out the age of a skeleton or other unidentified human remains.
Scratching around in a cave in the middle of nowhere, you find a bone.