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The scientists were able to estimate each turtle's approximate age by comparing the bomb-testing radiocarbon accumulated in its shell to background rates of bomb-testing radiocarbon deposited in Hawaii's corals.
Levels of carbon-14 increased rapidly in the biosphere from the mid-1950s to about 1970 as a result of Cold War-era nuclear tests but have dropped at predictable rates since then, allowing scientists to determine the age of an organism based on its carbon-14 content.
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Broad-ribbed bony structures likely evolved to provide early turtles with more stability and leverage for fossorial locomotion (burrowing).
As these structures evolved and the turtle's carapace emerged in later forms, the flexibility of the spine was reduced and crawling speed declined.
Van Houtan and his colleagues analyzed hard tissue from the shells of 36 deceased hawksbill sea turtles collected since the 1950s.(Similar structures also appear in , a younger, toothed species dating from about 240 million ago during the Middle Triassic Epoch.) These broad-ribbed structures likely evolved to provide these early forms with more stability and leverage for burrowing., a species dating from about 220 million years ago, during the Late Triassic, is the oldest species to possess a complete plastron, broad dorsal ribs, and a series of neural plates, though it lacked a fully developed carapace.Authorities contend that this species is evidence that the carapace evolved after the plastron.There are three main hypotheses concerning their origins, and existing evidence is such that there is a lack of overwhelming support for any one of them.One hypothesis relies heavily on DNA analysis, whereas the others are based on morphological studies of fossils.
Many of the oldest and most primitive forms not only lacked a shell but also lacked a plastron and a carapace.