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Radiocarbon (14C) dating by liquid scintillation (LS) spectroscopy (also known as LS counting or LSC) provides an alternate method of 14C analysis where accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) analysis is less desirable. The past, present, and future applications of the method are discussed.
The site of Nokalakevi, in western Georgia, has seen significant excavation since 1973, including, since 2001, a collaborative Anglo-Georgian project. However, the interpretation of the site has largely rested on architectural analysis of standing remains and the relative dating of deposits based on the study of ceramics. Since 2013, the Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi has collected a diverse dataset derived from multiple scientific techniques including optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of ceramics, radiocarbon dating, δ13C and δ15N analysis and 87Sr/86Sr analysis. The full results of these analyses are reported here for the first time along with implications for the interpretation of the archaeology, which include greater detail in the site chronology but also indicators of diet and migration.
A major threat to the Scotch whisky industry is the sale of counterfeit single malt whiskies with purported distillation years in the 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. However, these are often much more recent spirits, distilled in the latter part of the 20th or first part of the 21st centuries. These sales impinge upon the reputation of auction houses, retailers, brand owners and distillers. The atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and early 1960s has enabled a precise calibration curve to be created, however, there are several reasons why this may not be appropriate for establishing the year of whisky distillation. We have created a 14C calibration curve derived from known-age, single malt whiskies for the period 1950–2015 that enables whisky distilled during the period from 1955 onwards to have the distillation year determined to within 1–3 years for certain periods. However, because of the shape of the curve, two possible age ranges are often possible. The correct range can often be determined from a further plot of δ13C values against distillation year, which shows a trend of decreasing values through time. Several examples are given of the determination of both genuine and fake products.
New radiocarbon (14C) dates suggest a simultaneous appearance of two technologically and geographically distinct axe production practices in Neolithic Britain; igneous open-air quarries in Great Langdale, Cumbria, and from flint mines in southern England at ~4000–3700 cal BC. In light of the recent evidence that farming was introduced at this time by large-scale immigration from northwest Europe, and that expansion within Britain was extremely rapid, we argue that this synchronicity supports this speed of colonization and reflects a knowledge of complex extraction processes and associated exchange networks already possessed by the immigrant groups; long-range connections developed as colonization rapidly expanded. Although we can model the start of these new extraction activities, it remains difficult to estimate how long significant production activity lasted at these key sites given the nature of the record from which samples could be obtained.
Radiocarbon (14C) dating is routinely used, yet occasionally, issues still arise surrounding laboratory offsets, and unexpected and unexplained variability. Quality assurance and quality control have long been recognized as important in addressing the two issues of comparability (or bias, accuracy) and uncertainty or variability (or precision) of measurements both within and between laboratories (Long and Kalin 1990). The 14C community and the wider user communities have supported interlaboratory comparisons as one of several strands to ensure the quality of measurements (Scott et al. 2018). The nature of the intercomparisons has evolved as the laboratory characteristics have changed s. The next intercomparison is currently being planned to take place in 2019–2020. The focus of our work in designing intercomparisons is to (1) assist laboratories by contributing to their QA/QC processes, (2) supplement and enhance our suite of reference materials that are available to laboratories, (3) provide consensus 14C values with associated (small) uncertainties for performance checking, and (4) provide estimates of laboratory offsets and error multipliers which can inform subsequent modeling and laboratory improvements.
Over the past 30 years, the format of the radiocarbon (14C) intercomparison studies has changed, however, the selection of sample types used in these studies has remained constant—namely, natural and routinely dated materials that could subsequently be used as in-house reference materials. One such material is peat which has been used 12 times, starting with the ICS in 1988. Peat from Iceland (TIRI), Ellanmore (TIRI), Letham Moss (ICS, VIRI, and SIRI), and St Bees, UK (FIRI and VIRI) have been used, as well as a near-background peat from Siberia. In the main, these peat samples have been provided as the humic acid fraction, with the main advantage being that the humic acid is extracted in solution and then precipitated (the solution phase providing the homogenisation) which is a key requirement for a reference material. In this paper, we will revisit the peat results and explore their findings. In addition, for the last 8 years, the Letham Moss sample has been used in the SUERC 14C laboratory as an in-house standard or reference material. This has resulted in several thousand measurements. Such a rich data set is explored to illustrate the benefits arising from the intercomparison program.
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 best method for quantifying the marine reservoir effect (MRE) using the global IntCal Marine13 calibration curve remains unresolved. Archaeologists frequently quantify uncertainty on MRE values as errors computed from single pairs of marine-terrestrial radiocarbon ages, which we argue significantly overstates their accuracy and precision. Here, we review the assumptions, methods, and applications of estimating MRE via an estimate of the additional regional offset between the marine and terrestrial calibration curves (ΔR) for the Prince Rupert Harbour (PRH) region of British Columbia, Canada. We acknowledge the influence on ΔR of MRE variation as (1) a dynamic oceanographic process, (2) its variable expression in biochemical and geochemical pathways, and (3) compounding errors in sample selection, measurement, and calculation. We examine a large set of marine-terrestrial pairs (n = 63) from PRH to compare a common archaeological practice of estimating uncertainty from means that generate an uncertainty value of ±49 years with a revised, more appropriate estimate of error of ± 230 years. However, we argue that the use of multiple-pair samples estimates the PRH ΔR as 273 ± 38 years for the last 5,000 years. Calculations of error that do not consider these issues may generate inaccurate age estimates with unjustifiable precision.
There are at least four wooden intertidal platforms, also known as marine crannogs, in the Firth of Clyde, on the west coast of Scotland. The interpretation of these sites partly depends on their dating and, if coeval, they could point to the presence of a native maritime hub. Furthermore, the spatial coincidence with the terminus of the Antonine Wall has led to speculation about the role they may have played in Roman-native interaction during the occupation of southern Scotland in the early first millennium cal ad. Hence, a better absolute chronology is essential to evaluate whether the marine crannogs were contemporary with one another and whether they related to any known historic events. This article presents results of a wiggle-match dating project aimed at resolving these uncertainties at two of the sites in question, Dumbuck and Erskine Bridge crannogs. The results show that the construction of these sites pre-date direct Roman influence in Scotland. Furthermore, the results indicate that the two sites were built at least 300 years apart, forcing us to consider the possibility that they may have functioned in very different historical contexts. Other findings include technical observations on the fine shape of the radiocarbon calibration curve near the turn of the first millennia bc/ad and potential evidence for persistent contamination in decayed and exposed sections of waterlogged alder.
Archaeological fieldwork preceding housing development revealed a Mesolithic site in a primary context. A central hearth was evident from a cluster of calcined flint and bone, the latter producing a modelled date for the start of occupation at 8220–7840 cal bc and ending at 7960–7530 cal bc (95% probability). The principal activity was the knapping of bladelets, the blanks for microlith production. Impact-damaged microliths indicated the re-tooling of hunting weaponry, while microwear analysis of other tools demonstrated hide working and butchery activity at the site. The lithics can be classified as a Honey Hill assemblage type on the basis of distinctive leaf-shaped microlithic points with inverse basal retouch.
Such assemblages have a known concentration in central England and are thought to be temporally intermediate between the conventional British Early and Late Mesolithic periods. The lithic assemblage is compared to other Honey Hill type and related Horsham type assemblages from south-eastern England. Both assemblage types are termed Middle Mesolithic and may be seen as part of wider developments in the late Preboreal and Boreal periods of north-west Europe. Rapid climatic warming at this time saw the northward expansion of deciduous woodland into north-west Europe. Emerging new ecosystems presented changes in resource patterns and the Middle Mesolithic lithic typo-technological developments reflect novel foraging strategies as adaptations to the new opportunities of Boreal forest conditions. While Honey Hill-type assemblages are seen as part of such wider processes their distinctive typological signature attests to autochthonous, regional developments of human groups infilling the landscape. Such cultural insularity may reflect changing social boundaries with reduction in mobility range and physical isolation caused by rising sea level and the creation of the British archipelago.
We present δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S measurements on archaeological human and animal bone collagen samples from a shell midden dating to the Neolithic ca. 4000–3500 cal BC, together with measurements on modern fish and shellfish. These data were used in conjunction with the Bayesian mixing model, Food Reconstruction Using Isotopic Transferred Signals (FRUITS), to reconstruct human diet at the site. We demonstrate the importance of using a geographically appropriate faunal baseline in stable isotope paleodietary studies, and suggest that Neolithic individuals at this site consumed up to ca. 21% of dietary protein from marine resources, despite stable isotope ratios that imply a wholly terrestrial diet. This marine resource consumption does not significantly shift the radiocarbon (14C) dates of these individuals, so although we must consider the use of marine resources at the site, the chronology that has previously been established is secure. The δ13C and δ15N measurements from the archaeological herbivore bone collagen indicate that it is unlikely they ate plants enriched with fertilisers such as manure or seaweed. The δ34S values reveal a sea-spray effect; therefore, in this instance, δ34S cannot be used as a dietary indicator but can be used to demonstrate the likely locality of the fauna.
Radiocarbon (14C) wiggle-match dating is a technique with a substantial potential to improve the precision of dating timbers in situations where dendrochronology is not tenable. However, one of the key reasons why obtaining a dendrochronological determination might be difficult is the short-lived nature of timbers on a range of archaeological sites, something that also affects the efficiency of the wiggle-match dating technique. Combined with the potential for high expense that the technique presents, it is paramount that wiggle-match dating research design has a good empirical basis. To this end we dated 50 consecutive, individual rings from a timber that grew during the Hallstatt radiocarbon calibration plateau (ca. 750–400 cal BC) in southwest Scotland. The results indicate that (1) the precision and accuracy of wiggle-match dates carried out on short-lived sequences during the Hallstatt plateau may suffer due to insufficient resolution of the calibration data, (2) sampling time-frames roughly equivalent to the underpinning calibration data are recommended (for the period in question this means decadal blocks), and (3) short-lived sequences are at risk of losing accuracy if the actual past trend of radiocarbon diverges from the mean of the radiocarbon calibration curve.
Three time series based on precisely dated annual tree-ring widths have been used to reconstruct June plus July degree days for the central Alaska and northwestern Canada region. The time series are the longest recently developed chronologies for the area and represent 57 core samples from 27 trees. The degree-year-to-year variation and day reconstruction, extending back to A.D. 1524, exhibits much extended warming and cooling trends including a general warming trend from about 1840 to 1960. The reconstruction is in agreement with some subaretic glacial information and with data of percentage melting from arctic ice cores. This and similar reconstructions can provide quantitative information to compare with general circulation and energy budget models for longer time periods than are available in recorded meteorological data.
This article presents new values for the Scottish marine radiocarbon reservoir effect (MRE) during the Mesolithic at 4540–4240 BC (6490–6190 BP) and the Medieval period at AD 1460–1630 (490–320 BP). The results give a ΔR of –126±39 14C yr for the Mesolithic and of –130±36 14C yr for the Medieval. We recalculate previously published MRE values for the earlier Holocene in this region, at 6480–6290 BC (8430–8180 BP). Here, MRE values are slightly elevated, with a ΔR of 64±41 14C yr, possibly relating to the 8.2ka BP cold event. New values for the Mesolithic and Medieval indicate lower MRE values, broadly consistent with an existing data set of 37 mid- to late Holocene assessments for Scottish waters, indicating stable ocean conditions. We compare the intercept and probability density function (PDF) methods for assessing ΔR. The ΔR values are indistinguishable, but confidence intervals are slightly larger with the PDF method. We therefore apply this more conservative method to calculate ΔR. The MRE values presented fill important gaps in understanding Scottish marine 14C dynamics, providing confidence when calibrating material from critical periods in Scotland’s prehistory, particularly the Mesolithic, when the use of marine resources by coastal populations was high.
Prince Rupert Harbour (PRH), on the north Pacific Coast of British Columbia, contains at least 157 shell middens, of which 66 are known villages, in an area of approximately 180 km2. These sites span the last 9500 yr and in some cases are immense, exceeding 20,000 m2 surface area and several meters in depth. Recent archaeological research in PRH has become increasingly reliant on radiocarbon dates from marine shell for developing chronologies. However, this is problematic as the local marine reservoir effect (MRE) remains poorly understood in the region. To account for the MRE and to better date the Harbour’s sites, we propose a ΔR of 273±38 for the PRH area, based on our work at the site of Kitandach (GbTo-34), a massive shell midden-village centrally located within the Harbour. We followed the multiple paired sample approach for samples from specific contexts and ensured contemporaneity within the groups of marine and terrestrial materials by statistically assessing for outliers using the χ2 test. Taking together, the results for this and previous studies, it appears the MRE was fairly constant over the past 5000 yr.
Radiocarbon dates have been obtained from a log-coffin burial excavated in 1864 by Canon William Greenwell from a ditched round barrow at Scale House, near Rylstone, North Yorkshire. The oak tree-trunk coffin had contained an extended body wrapped in a wool textile. The body had entirely decayed and there were no other extant grave goods. In the absence of other grave goods, Greenwell attributed the burial to the Bronze Age because it lay under a ditched round barrow and had similarities with log-coffin burials from Britain and Denmark. This attribution has not been questioned since 1864 despite a number of early medieval log-coffin burials subsequently being found in northern Britain. Crucially, the example excavated near Quernmore, Lancashire in 1973, was published as Bronze Age but subsequently radiocarbon dated to ad 430–970. The Rylstone coffin and textile were radiocarbon dated to confirm that the burial was Early Bronze Age and not an early medieval coffin inserted into an earlier funerary monument. Unexpectedly, the dates were neither Early Bronze Age nor early medieval but c. 800 bc, the cusp of the Bronze Age–Iron Age transition in Britain. The burial at Rylstone is, therefore, one of only two sites in Britain, and is unparalleled elsewhere in north-western Europe at a time when disposal of the dead was primarily through dispersed cremated or unburnt disarticulated remains.
Since 1998 archaeological investigations on Holme-next-the-Sea beach have recorded the waterlogged remains of two Bronze Age timber circles, timber structures, coppiced trees, metal objects, and salt- and freshwater marshes. The second timber circle (Holme II) is only the third waterlogged structure of its type to be discovered in Britain and only the second to be dated by dendrochronology. The felling of timbers used in Holme II has been dated to the spring or summer of 2049 bc, exactly the time as the felling of the timbers used to build the first circle (Holme I). This shared date provides the only known example of two adjacent monuments constructed at precisely the same time in British prehistory. It also informs comparisons between Holme II and other British timber circles and therefore helps develop interpretations. This paper suggests Holme II was a mortuary monument directly related to the use of Holme I.