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Radiocarbon (14C) ages cannot provide absolutely dated chronologies for archaeological or paleoenvironmental studies directly but must be converted to calendar age equivalents using a calibration curve compensating for fluctuations in atmospheric 14C concentration. Although calibration curves are constructed from independently dated archives, they invariably require revision as new data become available and our understanding of the Earth system improves. In this volume the international 14C calibration curves for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, as well as for the ocean surface layer, have been updated to include a wealth of new data and extended to 55,000 cal BP. Based on tree rings, IntCal20 now extends as a fully atmospheric record to ca. 13,900 cal BP. For the older part of the timescale, IntCal20 comprises statistically integrated evidence from floating tree-ring chronologies, lacustrine and marine sediments, speleothems, and corals. We utilized improved evaluation of the timescales and location variable 14C offsets from the atmosphere (reservoir age, dead carbon fraction) for each dataset. New statistical methods have refined the structure of the calibration curves while maintaining a robust treatment of uncertainties in the 14C ages, the calendar ages and other corrections. The inclusion of modeled marine reservoir ages derived from a three-dimensional ocean circulation model has allowed us to apply more appropriate reservoir corrections to the marine 14C data rather than the previous use of constant regional offsets from the atmosphere. Here we provide an overview of the new and revised datasets and the associated methods used for the construction of the IntCal20 curve and explore potential regional offsets for tree-ring data. We discuss the main differences with respect to the previous calibration curve, IntCal13, and some of the implications for archaeology and geosciences ranging from the recent past to the time of the extinction of the Neanderthals.
Connecting calendar ages to radiocarbon (14C) ages, i.e. constructing a calibration curve, requires 14C samples that represent, or are closely connected to, atmospheric 14C values and that can also be independently dated. In addition to these data, there is information that can serve as independent tests of the calibration curve. For example, information from ice core radionuclide data cannot be directly incorporated into the calibration curve construction as it delivers less direct information on the 14C age–calendar age relationship but it can provide tests of the quality of the calibration curve. Furthermore, ice core ages on 14C-dated volcanic eruptions provide key information on the agreement of ice core and radiocarbon time scales. Due to their scarcity such data would have little impact if directly incorporated into the calibration curve. However, these serve as important “anchor points” in time for independently testing the calibration curve and/or ice-core time scales. Here we will show that such information largely supports the new IntCal20 calibration record. Furthermore, we discuss how floating tree-ring sequences on ice-core time scales agree with the new calibration curve. For the period around 40,000 years ago we discuss unresolved differences between ice core 10Be and 14C records that are possibly related to our limited understanding of carbon cycle influences on the atmospheric 14C concentration during the last glacial period. Finally, we review the results on the time scale comparison between the Greenland ice-core time scale (GICC05) and IntCal20 that effectively allow a direct comparison of 14C-dated records with the Greenland ice core data.
Eighteen new high-precision radiocarbon (14C) dates obtained for dendrochronologically dated wood from Bodegraven, the Netherlands are reported. They are relevant for establishing the revised calibration curve around the time of the Bronze Age Santorini eruption. Most of our new data overlap within one sigma with IntCal13, but a few data points are slightly increased in 14C age compared to IntCal13.
New radiocarbon dating and chronological modelling have refined understanding of the character and circumstances of flint mining at Grime’s Graves through time. The deepest, most complex galleried shafts were worked probably from the third quarter of the 27th century cal bc and are amongst the earliest on the site. Their use ended in the decades around 2400 cal bc, although the use of simple, shallow pits in the west of the site continued for perhaps another three centuries. The final use of galleried shafts coincides with the first evidence of Beaker pottery and copper metallurgy in Britain. After a gap of around half a millennium, flint mining at Grime’s Graves briefly resumed, probably from the middle of the 16th century cal bc to the middle of the 15th. These ‘primitive’ pits, as they were termed in the inter-war period, were worked using bone tools that can be paralleled in Early Bronze Age copper mines. Finally, the scale and intensity of Middle Bronze Age middening on the site is revealed, as it occurred over a period of probably no more than a few decades in the 14th century cal bc. The possibility of connections between metalworking at Grime’s Graves at this time and contemporary deposition of bronzes in the nearby Fens is discussed.
The volcanic mega event of the Minoan Santorini eruption constitutes a time anchor in the 2nd millennium BCE that is inherently independent of archaeology and political history. It was a geological event. Yet the dimension of time in geology is not different than in archaeology or human history. Why then does archaeological dating usually place the Minoan Santorini eruption in the 18th Dynasty around 1500 BCE, whilst radiocarbon dating of the volcanic event at Akrotiri (Thera) yielded a calibrated age of 1646–1603 cal BCE, a difference of more than a century? The crux of the problem lies apparently in the correlation between archaeological strata and political history. We present radiocarbon dates of Ashkelon Phases 10 and 11 in comparison to Tell el-Dabca and the Santorini eruption, based only on 14C dating. Tell el-Dabca Phase D/2 is slightly older than the volcanic event. But Phase D/1 or Phase C/2-3 could have witnessed the eruption. Ashkelon Phase 11 has similar radiocarbon dates as Tell el-Dabca Phases E/2, E/1 and D/3, all being significantly older than the Minoan eruption. It seems that the duration of Ashkelon Phase 10 includes the temporal occurrence of the Minoan Santorini eruption within the Second Intermediate Period.
The skull of the extinct rhinoceros Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis (Jäger, 1839) was discovered in the Chondon River valley (Arctic Yakutia, Russia) during the summer of 2014. This is the first find of Stephanorhinus above the Arctic Circle, expanding significantly the known geographic range of the genus. 14C dating and geologic evidence indicate that the skull dates to between 48,000 and 70,000 yr, corresponding to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 4/3. It is thus among the latest records of this species. To explore the evolutionary and natural history of this relatively unknown animal, we performed morphological, dietary, and genetic analyses. Phylogenetic inference based on a complete mitochondrial genome sequence confirms the systematic placement of Stephanorhinus as most closely related to the extinct woolly rhinoceros, Coelodonta. Food remains in the fossas of the cheek teeth, identified as Larix, Vaccinium, Betula sp., Aulacomnium, and dicotyledonous herbs and grasses, suggest a mixed feeder’s diet. Microwear analysis suggests that, during the last months of its life, this individual fed predominantly on leaves and twigs. The habitat of Stephanorhinus comprised grassland and open woodland that were characterized by moist and cold climate conditions, similar to those in the region today.
In this response to the reply by Shahack-Gross and Finkelstein (2017), we present additional data of our research at Horvat Haluqim. This includes phytolith percentages and multicellular phytolith stomata in a thin section of a layer in Terraced Field 12, dated by radiocarbon (14C) to the Late Bronze–Early Iron Age. We also show thin-section evidence of aggrading sediment laminations in this terraced field. A new 14C date is given of the Early Islamic Period in Terraced Field 7, as differences in terrace wall architecture are highlighted. We revisit the interpretation by Shahack-Gross and Finkelstein in relation to herd management. Our 14C dates attest that terrace agriculture based on runoff/floodwater irrigation occurred in the Negev Highlands during several periods, including the Iron Age.
Since its invention in the late 1940s, radiocarbon (14C) dating has become an important tool for absolute dating. A prerequisite for the acceptance of this method is consistency between, and compatibility of, 14C dates from different laboratories. To meet these requirements, international laboratory intercomparison studies with different sample materials are frequently performed (e.g. TIRI, FIRI, VIRI and, most recently, SIRI).Intercomparison is especially relevant and difficult for samples close to the dating limit of ~50 kBP, not least for bone samples. A 14C intercomparison study between the Leibniz-Laboratory in Kiel (Germany), the Center for Isotope Research (CIO) in Groningen (the Netherlands), and the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU, United Kingdom) was performed on three Pleistocene (MIS3) mammal bone samples from the Brick Quarry site Coenen (BQC) in Germany. The comparison of individually prepared and measured bone collagen 14C activities, results from shared collagen measurements, and respective background signatures and correction points to the latter as the main factor responsible for observed differences in final given radiocarbon estimates.
Shahack-Gross and Finkelstein (2015) further developed their theory, based on microarchaeology, that there was no agriculture in the Negev Highlands during the Iron Age. We critically evaluate their article in this rejoinder and propose that their conclusion is an example of overinterpretation from a small amount of indirect data. Based on phytoliths in two courtyards and a few rooms, i.e. structures not related to farming, they construed the absence of agriculture during the Iron Age in an area of 2000 km2. We present new radiocarbon, macroarchaeological, and microarchaeological data of Horvat Haluqim, showing that agriculture in the Negev Highlands based on runoff/floodwater capture and related terrace wall construction did not begin with the Roman–Byzantine period. Terrace agriculture in the Negev is older and includes also the Iron Age.
Cryptotephrochronology, the use of hidden, diminutive volcanic ash layers to date sediments, has rarely been applied outside western Europe but has the potential to improve the tephrochronology of other regions of the world. Here we present the first comprehensive cryptotephra study in Alaska. Cores were extracted from five peatland sites, with cryptotephras located by ashing and microscopy and their glass geochemistry examined using electron probe microanalysis. Glass geochemical data from nine tephras were compared between sites and with data from previous Alaskan tephra studies. One tephra present in all the cores is believed to represent a previously unidentified eruption of Mt. Churchill and is named here as the ‘Lena tephra’. A mid-Holocene tephra in one site is very similar to Aniakchak tephra and most likely represents a previously unidentified Aniakchak eruption, ca. 5300–5030 cal yr BP. Other tephras are from the late Holocene White River eruption, a mid-Holocene Mt. Churchill eruption, and possibly eruptions of Redoubt and Augustine volcanoes. These results show the potential of cryptotephras to expand the geographic limits of tephrochronology and demonstrate that Mt. Churchill has been more active in the Holocene than previously appreciated. This finding may necessitate reassessment of volcanic hazards in the region.
Humans colonized the Balearic Islands 5–4 ka ago. They arrived in a uniquely adapted ecosystem with the Balearic mountain goat Myotragus balearicus (Bovidae, Antilopinae, Caprini) as the only large mammal. This mammal went extinct rapidly after human arrival. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the extinction of M. balearicus. For the present study ancient DNA analysis (Sanger sequencing, Roche-454, Ion Torrent), and pollen and macrofossil analyses were performed on preserved coprolites from M. balearicus, providing information on its diet and paleo-environment. The information retrieved shows that M. balearicus was heavily dependent on the Balearic box species Buxus balearica during at least part of the year, and that it was most probably a browser. Hindcast ecological niche modelling of B. balearica shows that local distribution of this plant species was affected by climate changes. This suggests that the extinction of M. balearicus can be related to the decline and regional extinction of a plant species that formed a major component of its diet. The vegetation change is thought to be caused by increased aridity occurring throughout the Mediterranean. Previous hypotheses relating the extinction of M. balearicus directly to the arrival of humans on the islands must therefore be adjusted.
An olive branch is traditionally a symbol of peace, but not necessarily in the context of chronological problems in the Eastern Mediterranean region and the Near East during the second millennium BC. Cherubini et al. (above) strongly attack the radiocarbon dating by Friedrich et al. (2006) of an ancient olive branch, buried by volcanic tephra during the Minoan Santorini eruption. The criticism stems from their investigation of growth rings in modern olive trees on Santorini. The authors attempt with additional arguments, beyond their botanical investigation, to defend the traditional low chronology of the Santorini eruption of around 1500 BC. However, they ignore other crucial publications with radiocarbon dates concerning the Santorini eruption. In this response, we evaluate and negate their main arguments, and present our own conclusions.
A summary is presented of more than a decade-long study of direct radiocarbon dating for one of the most important human burials in Eurasia, the Sungir site in eastern Europe. Eighteen 14C dates were produced before early 2014 on three skeletons (Sungir 1–3), and there is still no consistency in the results. In the absence of other independent methods to establish the antiquity of Sungir, a careful analysis is performed of the site's stratigraphy, paleoenvironment, and 14C dates run on animal bones from the same layer as the burials. Although the conclusions of this work cannot be guaranteed to be absolutely correct, we suggest that at the present stage of research the age range of ∼26,000–27,210 BP is the most probable time for the creation of the elaborate human burials at the Sungir site.
The IntCal09 and Marine09 radiocarbon calibration curves have been revised utilizing newly available and updated data sets from 14C measurements on tree rings, plant macrofossils, speleothems, corals, and foraminifera. The calibration curves were derived from the data using the random walk model (RWM) used to generate IntCal09 and Marine09, which has been revised to account for additional uncertainties and error structures. The new curves were ratified at the 21st International Radiocarbon conference in July 2012 and are available as Supplemental Material at www.radiocarbon.org. The database can be accessed at http://intcal.qub.ac.uk/intcal13/.
This study compares age estimates of recent peat deposits in 10 European ombrotrophic (precipitation-fed) bogs produced using the 14C bomb peak, 210Pb, 137Cs, spheroidal carbonaceous particles (SCPs), and pollen. At 3 sites, the results of the different dating methods agree well. In 5 cores, there is a clear discrepancy between the 14C bomb peak and 210Pb age estimates. In the upper layers of the profiles, the age estimates of 14C and 210Pb are in agreement. However, with increasing depth, the difference between the age estimates appears to become progressively greater. The evidence from the sites featured in the study suggests that, provided aboveground plant material (seeds, leaves) is selected for dating, the 14C bomb peak is a reliable dating method, and is not significantly affected by the incorporation of old carbon with low 14C content originating from sources including air pollution deposition or methane produced by peat decomposition. 210Pb age estimates that are too old may be explained by the enrichment of 210Pb activity in the surface layers of peat resulting from a hypothesized mechanism where rapidly infilling hollows, rich in binding sites, may scavenge 210Pb associated with dissolved organic matter passing through the hollow, as part of the surface drainage network. Until further research identifies and resolves the cause of the inaccuracy in 210Pb dating, age estimates of peat samples based only on 210Pb should be used with caution.
Four accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) facilities undertook an interlaboratory exercise designed to examine the reliability and reproducibility of radiocarbon determinations on bone by dating a sample of elk (Alces alces) from Miesenheim IV. This specimen is derived from a secure geological context directly beneath the Laacher See tephra, which provides a precise terminus ante quern of ∼11,060 yr BP (∼13,050 cal yr BP). Regrettably, the results of the intercomparison exercise were complicated by evident contamination of the bone sample by exogenous organic material. This contaminant, probably humic acid, resulted in a wide span of ages (10,010 ± 30 to 11,100 ± 45 BP). The only method that yielded an accurate determination, consistent with the age of the tephra, was Oxford's single amino acid technique, which targets hydroxyproline. An acid hydrolysis step seems to have been crucial in breaking the bonds between the bone collagen and the contaminant.
Buran-Kaya III is a rockshelter located in Crimea (Ukraine). It provides an exceptional stratigraphic sequence extending from the Middle Paleolithic to the Neolithic. Nine Paleolithic layers have been attributed to the Streletskaya or eastern Szeletian, Micoquian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, and Swiderian cultural traditions. Human remains from the richest Gravettian layer (6-1) are radiocarbon dated to 31.9 ka BP, and therefore represent, with Peştera cu Oase (Romania), one of the oldest anatomically modern humans in Europe. The aim of this study is to obtain a controlled stratigraphic sequence of Buran-Kaya III with new 14C dates from faunal and human bones, in their paleoenvironmental context. During our new excavations (2009–2011), sediments, bones, and teeth from the stratigraphical layers were sampled for sedimentological, geochemical, and 14C analyses. Fossil bones from the 2001 excavations were also analyzed. Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating, including cross-dating, was performed at Groningen, Saclay/Gif-sur-Yvette, and Oxford. Biogeochemical analysis was used to test the integrity of the bone collagen. Dates were modeled using a Bayesian approach. The sedimentological, paleoenvironmental, and chronological data are mutually consistent and show that the Paleolithic human occupations at Buran-Kaya III range from the end of MIS 3 to early MIS 1. These results provide a new chronological and paleoenvironmental framework for the human settlements in eastern Europe during the late Middle and the Upper Paleolithic.
High-quality data from appropriate archives are needed for the continuing improvement of radiocarbon calibration curves. We discuss here the basic assumptions behind 14C dating that necessitate calibration and the relative strengths and weaknesses of archives from which calibration data are obtained. We also highlight the procedures, problems, and uncertainties involved in determining atmospheric and surface ocean 14C/12C in these archives, including a discussion of the various methods used to derive an independent absolute timescale and uncertainty. The types of data required for the current IntCal database and calibration curve model are tabulated with examples.