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Radiocarbon Dating in Near-Eastern Contexts: Confusion and Quality Control

  • Johannes van der Plicht (a1) and Hendrik J Bruins (a2)

Abstract

Near-Eastern archaeology has long remained oblivious to radiocarbon dating as unique historical calendars brought about a perception that 14C dating is superfluous. Circular chronological reasoning may occur as a result. There is now strong 14C evidence that the early part of Egyptian history seems older than age assessments currently in vogue among scholars. It is vital to apply systematic and high-quality 14C dating to each and every excavation in the Near East to measure time with the same yardstick. Such a strategy will enable chronological comparison of different areas at an excavation site and also between sites and regions, independent of cultural deliberations. This is essential for proper interpretation of archaeological layers and association with data from other fields. Radiocarbon (14C) is the most common radiometric dating tool applied in archaeology, geosciences, and environmental research. Stringent quality control is required to build up a reliable 14C chronology for the historical periods in Near-Eastern contexts. Important aspects of quality control involve regular laboratory intercomparisons, transparent duplicate and triplicate analysis of selected samples, conventional versus accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) (i.e. sample size), sample selection and association. Finally, bones may provide short-lived dates in important stratigraphic archaeological contexts.

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