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The Final Neolithic and the Bronze Age (3000–800 BC) are periods of great transformations in the communities inhabiting the area of modern-day Belgium, as testified by archaeological evidence showing an increasing complexity in social structure, technological transformations, and large-scale contacts. By combining 599 available radiocarbon dates with 88 new 14C dates from 23 from funerary sites, this paper uses kernel density estimates to model the temporality in the use of inhumation vs. cremation burials, cremation deposits in barrows vs. flat graves, and cremation grave types. Additionally, by including 78 dates from settlements, changes in population dynamics were reconstructed. The results suggest a phase of demographic contraction around ca. 2200–1800 BC highlighted by a lack of dates from both settlements and funerary contexts, followed by an increase in the Middle Bronze Age, with the coexistence of cremation deposits in barrows and, in a lower number, in flat graves. At the end of the 14th–13th century BC, an episode of cultural change with the almost generalized use of flat graves over barrows is observed. Regional differentiations in the funerary practices and the simultaneous use of different grave types characterize the Late Bronze Age.
Chronological and stratigraphic frameworks are of the utmost importance for Upper Paleolithic archaeology, physical anthropology, and ecology. Wide ranging radiocarbon (14C) dates were previously obtained for the Sungir burial complex in the central part of European Russia, which is well-known as the richest funeral Paleolithic assemblage in the world yet recorded. The major problem was the contamination caused by consolidants used during the recovery of human bones in the 1960s. The stratigraphy and spatial structure of the Sungir site were also not well understood previously. New radiocarbon and stable isotope data are generated for the Sungir burials. While some dates were younger due to incomplete removal of contamination, the XAD 14C age on S-1 burial (ca. 29,780 BP) was found to be statistically the same as the previously performed HYP 14C age for this burial (ca. 28,890 BP). Four animal bones found in cultural layer below the burial date to ca. 28,800–30,140 BP, suggesting that both this layer and human burials date to roughly this age range. Narrowing these ages further is difficult considering the larger errors of the 14C dates. This shows that future research attempting to 14C date material excavated many years ago needs to eliminate potential contamination from consolidants through analyses such as FTIR, prior to 14C dating. The chronology and stratigraphy of Sungir do not contradict to correlation of its lithic artifacts with the Streletskian assemblage as the East European variant of the Final Szeletian technocomplex (Early Upper Paleolithic).
The adoption of a new funerary ritual with all its social and cognitive meanings is of great importance to understanding social transformations of past societies. The first known occurrence of cremation in the territory corresponding to modern Belgium dates back to the Mesolithic period. From the end of the Neolithic onward, the practice of cremation was characterized by periods in which this rite was predominant and periods of contractions, defined by a decrease in the use of this funerary ritual. This paper aims to quantify such phenomenon for the first time by modeling discontinuities in burial practices through kernel density analysis of 1428 radiocarbon (14C) dates from 311 archaeological sites located in Belgium from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages. Despite possible taphonomic and sampling biases, the results highlight the existence of periods with a large uptake of cremation rite followed by periods of contractions; such discontinuities took place in correlation with changes in the socio-economical structure of local communities, as, for example, during the later Middle Bronze Age and at the end of the Roman Period.
The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (RICH) radiocarbon (14C) laboratory in Brussels, Belgium, has acquired experience for pretreating samples with 60 years of involvement in 14C dating, and the implementation of routine protocols. These procedures as applied to wood, seeds, charred materials, bones, ivory, textiles (silk, wool, cotton, linen), paper, shells, cremated bones, mortars, lead carbonates, sediments, etc. are described in detail in this paper. They are evaluated against reference materials.
As part of the study of the early medieval cemetery at Broechem (Belgium), human bones from 32 cremation graves have been dated through radiocarbon (14C) analysis. It was noted that many of the dates were not in accordance with the chronological ranges provided by the characteristics of the cultural artifacts deposited in the graves. In fact, the human bones were “older” than the artifacts. Subsequently, a number of animal bones (in all cases from domestic pigs) was radiocarbon dated, yielding dates that were more consistent with the information from the cultural artifacts than the human bones. The dates obtained on human and pig bones from the same grave often differed around 100 radiocarbon years. This paper tries to find an explanation for the pattern observed, concentrating on two hypotheses: aquatic reservoir versus old wood effects. The evaluation takes into account additional radiocarbon dates derived from charcoal fragments of the funeral pyre, from both short-lived and long-lived taxa. A conclusive explanation for the anomalous radiocarbon dates could not be reached but clear suggestions can be put forward for future experimental work that will without doubt shed more light upon the interpretational problems raised.
Direct dates of pottery obtained from food crusts or other organic residues on the vessel surfaces can be affected by a reservoir effect and/or an old wood effect and therefore be unreliable. Hence, there is a need for alternative ways to directly date pottery. Moss is used as temper by several cultural groups of the late 6th to early 4th millennium cal BC in northwestern Europe. After the pottery is fired, charred moss remains are often preserved in the clay, so that relatively short-lived plant material with a direct chronological link to the pottery and human occupation is available for radiocarbon (14C) dating. In this study, charred moss temper is extracted for accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating from pottery of the Swifterbant Culture and Spiere group in the Scheldt river valley (Belgium). The moss dates are then compared to reference dates of organic macro-remains from the same sites and food crust dates with or without a reservoir effect of the same pottery. Eleven out of 13 moss dates are in line with the expected pottery age. The paired dates of moss temper and food crusts from the same potsherds confirm a freshwater reservoir effect (FRE) for the latter. We conclude that moss temper has great potential as a sample material for direct pottery dating. However, more research on the extraction and pretreatment of moss temper as well as on the reliability of moss dates is necessary in the future.
Radiocarbon (14C) results on cremated bone are frequently published in high-ranking journals, but 14C laboratories employ different pretreatment methods as they have divergent perceptions of what sources of contaminants might be present. We found pretreatment protocols to vary significantly between three laboratories (Brussels [RICH], Kiel [KIA], and Groningen [CIO]), which all have a long history of dating cremated bone. We present a case study of 6 sets of replicate dates, to compare laboratory pretreatment protocols, and a further 16 sets of inter-laboratory replicate measurements, which compare specific steps of the conversion and measuring process. The 14C results showed dates to be reproducible between the laboratories and consistent with the expected archaeological chronology. We found that differences in pretreatment, conversion to CO2 and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) measurement to have no measurable influence on the majority of obtained results, suggesting that any possible diagenesis was probably restricted to the most soluble ≤5% of each sample, as this proportion of the sample mass was removed under all laboratory protocols.
In 2015, a domed oven from the late fifth millennium cal BC was excavated near Kortrijk, northern Belgium. In terms of its size, tripartite structure, stone flooring and well-preserved domed combustion chamber, the oven is unique in Neolithic Western Europe, although mostly smaller, less well-preserved parallels are known in northern France. Such features are thought to have appeared in Western Europe in the Early to Middle Neolithic periods (post-Linearbandkeramik Culture). Their appearance and possible use for drying cereals may be related to a change from individual (household) to communal processing of cereals, and/or indicate adaptation to a wetter climate by newly settled agro-pastoralist communities.
An increase in atmospheric radiocarbon (14C) content of about 11.3‰ in the period AD 993–994 was observed in annual tree rings from Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) (Miyake et al. 2013, 2014). Single-year samples of dendrochronologically dated tree rings (English oak, Quercus robur) from Kujawy, a village near Krakow (SE Poland), spanning the years AD 981–1000, were collected, and their 14C content was measured using the AMS system in the Leibniz Laboratory. The results clearly show an increase of 6.2±1.6‰ in the 14C concentration in tree rings between AD 993 and 994, with a maximum increase of 10.9±1.7‰ between AD 991 and 994.
The freshwater reservoir effect (FRE) for the Schelde basin (Belgium) is assessed for the Roman, Medieval and early Post-medieval periods by comparing historical and archaeological dates from individual archaeological deposits with radiocarbon dates on the remains of freshwater fish and terrestrial mammals from those same deposits. This is the first time such an assessment has been attempted for the Schelde basin. The FRE offsets prove to be substantial for the historical periods considered. They also differ markedly between fish species and between size classes of a single species. These observations have implications for the evaluation of radiocarbon dates obtained on archaeological remains of humans (and animals) with a substantial amount of freshwater fish into their diet. The data obtained in this study suggest that it will not be easy to correct for any FRE.
Absolute dating of mortars is crucial when trying to pin down construction phases of archaeological sites and historic stone buildings to a certain point in time or to confirm, but possibly also challenge, existing chronologies. To evaluate various sample preparation methods for radiocarbon (14C) dating of mortars as well as to compare different dating methods, i.e. 14C and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), a mortar dating intercomparison study (MODIS) was set up, exploring existing limits and needs for further research. Four mortar samples were selected and distributed among the participating laboratories: one of which was expected not to present any problem related to the sample preparation methodologies for anthropogenic lime extraction, whereas all others addressed specific known sample preparation issues. Data obtained from the various mortar dating approaches are evaluated relative to the historical framework of the mortar samples and any deviation observed is contextualized to the composition and specific mineralogy of the sampled material.
Radiocarbon (14C) dating of protein-containing material (collagen, hair/wool, silk, leather) contaminated with extraneous carbon (e.g. humic substances) might result in unreliable dates when pretreated with the conventional but inadequate protocols. In this study cross-flow nanofiltration was applied to pretreated, protein-containing material. This method is able to remove low-molecular and high-molecular weight contaminants as demonstrated in previous studies. The sample quality improvement by cross-flow nanofiltration is verified by measuring the C:N ratio before and after nanofiltration. If the C:N ratio of the permeate (sample after cross-flow nanofiltration) falls within the C:N boundaries for uncontaminated wool/hair, silk and bone collagen, it is assumed to be contamination free. In our study, we focused on wool, silk, and collagen samples of known historical age. All samples treated by cross-flow nanofiltration effectively outputs C:N ratios within the expected range and yield for more accurate 14C date in agreement with historical expectations whereas bulk samples with C:N ratio out of the expected ranges, give either younger or older dates. We thus highlight both that C:N ratio is a good indicator of contamination and that cross-flow nanofiltration is an efficient method to treat protein-containing materials prior to 14C dating.
Recently a cremation cemetery was excavated at the site of Wijnegem where 29 cremation graves and 9 funerary monuments were uncovered. Thirty radiocarbon (14C) dates were carried out, mostly on cremated bone but also 10 charcoal samples were dated. Twenty-four cremations were studied. Four ring ditches were dated by charcoal samples from the infill of the ditch. The 14C dates showed an interesting long-term occupation of the cemetery. Different phases were ascertained. The history of the cemetery starts in the northern part of the site around a circular funerary monument. Two cremations were dated at the transition of the Early to Middle Bronze Ages. Two other graves represent the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Ages. The main occupation period dates between the end of the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age. Finally, an isolated cremation grave marks the definite abandonment of the site during the Late Iron Age.
Seven radiocarbon laboratories: Åbo/Aarhus, CIRCE, CIRCe, ETHZ, Poznań, RICH, and Milano-Bicocca performed separation of carbonaceous fractions suitable for 14C dating of four mortar samples selected for the MOrtar Dating Inter-comparison Study (MODIS). In addition, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) analyses were completed by Milano-Bicocca and IRAMAT-CRP2A Bordeaux. Each laboratory performed separation according to laboratory protocol. Results of this first intercomparison show that even though consistent 14C ages were obtained by different laboratories, two mortars yielded ages different than expected from the archaeological context.
Organic residues preserved on the outer surfaces of archaeological pottery are commonly considered to be soot and, not being subject to reservoir effects, as more reliable for radiocarbon (14C) dating compared to food crusts from the inner surface. However, unlike food crusts, outer surface residues are never analyzed prior to 14C dating. This study confronts 14C dates on inner and outer surface residues preserved on prehistoric pottery from Bazel Sluis (Belgium) with the results of stable isotope analysis and thermally assisted hydrolysis and methylation pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (THM-GC-MS). These analyses clearly show that food residue is also present on the outer pottery surface, causing a possible reservoir effect on 14C dates. At Bazel, 14C dates on both the inner and outer surface residues are too old compared to dates obtained on associated animal bone. In addition, the outer surface residues systematically date younger than the inner food crusts, a discrepancy that is also known from other archaeological sites. It is suggested that these age differences are due to the mixed presence of soot and food residue on the exterior vessel wall as opposed to more homogeneous food crusts on the internal surface.
Quality control of sample material (e.g. charcoal, collagen) is receiving considerable attention in the effort to obtain more reliable 14C dates. The atomic carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio is a useful indicator of contamination and/or degradation of bone collagen. Wool and silk are also composed of proteinaceous material such as bone collagen, and the C:N ratio may also be a useful quality indicator for archaeological wool and silk. Analyses of modern undyed, mordanted, non-mordanted, and naturally dyed silk and wool were done in order to determine a C:N range that indicates the sample quality. The C:N range can be different for every material as the amino acid composition of wool, silk, and bone collagen are distinct. The measured minimum and maximum C:N values were used to set up a C:N range of uncontamined and undegraded wool and silk. Then, the C:N ratio and 14C were analyzed of archaeological wool and silk samples. The applicability of the C:N ratio as a quality indicator for archaeological silk and wool was shown by the good agreement of the 14C dates with the presumed historical dates for the uncontaminated samples and the disagreement of the 14C dates with the presumed historical dates for contaminated samples.
Lime burials are a characteristic phenomenon of the protohistoric funerary tradition on the Balearic Islands. At Cova de Na Dent, six samples, representing the entire stratigraphy of the lime burial, were taken for analysis. The radiocarbon dates suggested that the lowest levels of the burial were Late Bronze Age. This is in contradiction with the general belief that the lime burials are a late Iron Age phenomenon. Therefore, a new analysis strategy is put forward, focusing on the so-called 1st fraction, the first CO2 released during the acid lime reaction, which is supposed to be free of fossil carbon. The analysis demonstrates the impossibility to eliminate the fossil carbon fraction completely. This is probably due to the different geological formation of the local limestone deposits (ancient reef barriers) compared to the previous lime burials of Mallorca all coming from mountain areas. 14C analysis from a cremation layer without lime at the onset of the lime burial reveals an Iron Age origin of the Cova de Na Dent lime burial.
Excavations in the cathedral of Tournai revealed two sepultures, which were identified by the excavators as those of bishops because of their special location in the cathedral. One burial was assigned to Baldwin I, who died in AD 1068, because (1) a ring with the inscription “BAL” was found and (2) a funeral stone with text was present on top of the grave mentioning the name Baldewinus. The second burial probably belongs to Radbot II, who was the successor of Baldwin I, and died in AD 1098. Both burials contained textiles (silk), the skeleton, a wooden pastoral staff, and human hair was still present on the skull of what was presumed to be Radbot II. All the protein-containing materials were degraded and/or contaminated. Standard sample pretreatment methods were not able to remove all the contaminants. Single and double cross-flow nanofiltration of the hydrolyzed protein-containing materials were performed. The sample quality for radiocarbon dating was improved and 14C data revealed interesting and surprising results. The 14C dates of the wooden pastoral staff and permeate femur confirm that the skeleton and tomb belong to bishop Baldwin I. The 14C dates of hair and permeate skull indicate that the skeleton may indeed belong to bishop Radbot II. The younger 14C dates of the wooden pastoral staff and silk samples indicate a postburial disturbance of the site burial during the 12th–13th century.
Lime burials are a characteristic phenomenon of the protohistoric funerary tradition on the Balearic Islands. At Cova de Na Dent, a lime burial has been sampled for analysis. The lime burial was made up of lime and fragmented bones. Six layers were sampled and described in the laboratory according to their color, the consistency of the deposition, and the aspect and quantity of the bone fragments. Bone samples and lime were dated. The lime was analyzed by using petrographic analysis, X-ray diffraction, FTIR spectroscopy, and simultaneous thermal analysis. The results show that the bones were cremated in the presence of crushed rock carbonate. The 14C dates on the lime suggest an earlier chronology for this ritual, starting in the Bronze Age, as generally is accepted.
An overview will be presented of stable isotope data (δ13C and δ15N) available from animal and human bones from Roman to post-Medieval Belgian sites. The data will be used to assess trends in the human diet and evaluate the possible impact of reservoir effects originating from the consumption of fish derived from marine or freshwater environments. Historical and archaeozoological data demonstrate drastic changes in fish consumption throughout the last 2 millennia and thus suggest that fluctuations through time of the impact of the reservoir effects can be expected. However, the present stable isotope data set does not support this suggestion.