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Viking expert attains highest honour

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Simon Fraser University
Media and Public Relations

Contact: Erle Nelson, 604.291.3673,

July 28, 2006

The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) has elected Erle Nelson — an SFU archaeologist who discovered a new method of radiocarbon dating in the late-1970s — to its prestigious academies of arts, humanities and sciences. Scholars, artists and writers are elected to the RSC — Canada’s oldest scholarly organization — on the merits and impact of their research.

From August 8 until the end of August, Nelson will join a research team in southern Greenland where he is applying his pioneering techniques to uncovering how the Greenland Norse people lived, worked and ate, and why they vanished. Also known as Vikings, Norse people date back to 1300.

A nuclear physicist by training, Nelson discovered a more efficient method for measuring the very small amounts of radioactive substances found in nature. This method revolutionized radiocarbon dating (measuring radioactive carbon to date artifacts) and is now used broadly in the earth sciences and archaeology to date historical events.

Nelson, a Port Moody resident, can talk about how his invention led to what was once considered the oldest North American artifact being wiped from history books overnight. Nelson’s invention has benefited many disciplines, including biomedical studies.