The many strands of radiocarbon data

We finished our last blog post by promising to take you on a digital tour of the major sources of radiocarbon data we have been scouring during our summer of data collection. So here we are, to start that tour-but it is going to be split up across three posts, simply because there are so many important sources (and important people) that we need the space to get them all in!

One of the nonhuman members of Project Time consults Gathering Time, one of a suite of important sources of existing radiocarbon data (because dynamic photographs of data collection are difficult)

It might sound like the aim of Project Time, to collate all the existing radiocarbon measurements from Britain and Ireland within 3500-1500 cal BC, is quite a daunting task (it certainly did to us…). However, we are not the first project that has sought to collate radiocarbon data; this means there are a range of existing data sources for us to consult, which focus on particular areas, time periods, or types of archaeology. Perhaps even more useful, however, is the fact that these are open access sources, which means the data is freely available-so if you have a deep yearning to undertake a review of radiocarbon data, you can uses these sources too!  So, here, in no particular order, are some of the most important datasets and datelists that we have been using:

  • ‘The Archaeological site index to radiocarbon dates from Great Britain and Ireland’ is a huge dataset, containing over 15,000 radiocarbon measurements. Originally compiled by Cherry Lavell for the Council for British Archaeology, and added to by people including the Scientific Dating Team at Historic England (then English Heritage), it is hosted on the Archaeology Data Service website. Here, you can query the database for records based on a range of variables, including keywords, dates, or site types. Have a look for yourself here.
  • The Scottish Radiocarbon Database includes legacy data. The best way to access this information online at the moment is by searching for individual sites within the National Record of the Historic Environment (CANMORE), and then clicking on the link on the “C14 Radiocarbon Dating” link. For example, the results from the timber enclosure at Meldon Bridge  can be found here. We have added more recent dates to the dataset by collating lists of radiocarbon dates from Discovery and Excavation in Scotland.
  • For Wales, there is the Wales and Borders Radiocarbon Database, which was created, and continues to be added to by Steve Burrow and Sian Williams, at the National Museum Wales (which can be found here) . 
  • In Ireland, Robert Chapple has spent years collating his own set of radiocarbon dates, and has made this freely available to everyone here. This collection includes more than 10,000 radiocarbon measurements and we have been concentrating on the results that calibrate between 3500 and 1500 BC.
  • There are also a number of previous projects that have collected RC data and have made their datasets available to researchers.  These can cover multiple time periods (such as the study by Bevan et al 2017 examining Holocene population fluctuations in Britain and Ireland), or they can focus on specific periods and practices, such as ‘Gathering Time’, ‘Cultivating Societies’  and the ‘Beaker People Project’.

Proof that the radiocarbon datelist hosted on the ADS really is for everyone

It’s really important to acknowledge that all of these sources are the result of a huge amount of work by those involved in these projects (and in our final publications, they will all be fully referenced). But perhaps more important is the fact that the data is made freely available – after all, archaeology should be for everyone, but to do that, we have to make our data accessible!  So that’s it for now, but stay tuned for the next thrilling installment of our tour of radiocarbon sources, and as always, if you are part of an archaeological project, please get in touch on twitter (@projecttimearch) to let us know if you have data that you think we might have missed.

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