Radiocarbon dates

Organic materials recovered in archaeological trenches – most typically charred wood – can be dated using radiocarbon (C14) dating. Radiocarbon dating has been around since the 1950s. The method works, simply put, by measuring the levels of the the isotope carbon 14 relative to its lighter, and more run-of-the-mill, cousin carbon 12. Living things absorb  carbon 14 when they’re alive, and cease to do so when they die; and, after they die, the carbon 14 fraction declines at a fixed exponential rate. That therefore constitutes a radiometric clock which can tell us the time elapsed since the organism died. Very clearly useful when you want to suggest at what date J Bloggs cut down and threw onto a fireplace the tree in their yard.

The radiocarbon dates I submitted a short while ago from contexts in our test pits at BLAF have now come back from the lab, and the results are quite surprising. Guesses on a postcard please.


4 Responses to “Radiocarbon dates”

  1. 1 Richard Doyle
    September 19, 2011 at 09:26

    1200 BCE? What empires were active then?

  2. 2 ach
    September 20, 2011 at 16:52

    Dear Richard, Not quite as old as 1200 BCE – and as far as we know there were no empires at that time although people were getting organised in a big way in some places, such as the Chad Basin to the east of us, where they built huge ramparts: see our Frankfurt colleagues’ work in Borno, Nigeria – http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/magnavita/
    I’ll see if anyone wants to chance a guess,

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About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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