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08-Jul-2017 00:32

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Investigators: Prof Colin Haselgrove (Leicester); Prof Chris Gosden (Oxford); Prof Gordon Cook (SUERC) Research Associates: Dr Derek Hamilton (Leicester-SUERC); Dr.

Elaine Dunbar (SUERC); Ms Cynthia Poole (Oxford); Ms Lisa Brown (Oxford) Traditional approaches to dating the Iron Age constructed complex chronologies based on artefact typologies. Two key results are, first, that typological dating produces sequences that are regularly too late, and second, that various phenomena, from chariot burials to settlement shifts, represent brief episodes, rather than being long lived.

This is especially true of Wessex, where many major hillforts have been explored over the years, including Cadbury Castle, Maiden Castle and best known of all, Danebury.

Since Barry Cunliffe began excavating there in 1969, this 16 ha hillfort has stood near the centre of archaeological discourse on Iron Age societies in Britain and beyond.

14C dating was long neglected, because it was thought to allow less precision than artefact dating and because of the ‘Hallstatt plateau’ between 800–400 BC. This has created gaps in the familiar sequence, with knock-on consequences for the models that govern our perceptions of Iron Age societies (Barrett et al. An example is the 2nd to 1st century BC void identified by 14C dating of the metalwork that underpins the pottery typologies used to date most settlements.

The last decade, has however seen major advances in methodology and through specific 14C dating projects (e.g. If a re-alignment of insular and continental chronologies is found to be necessary, this will have major implications for our interpretation of the mid to late Iron Age transition in Britain.

At this time the large sample size required for conventional radiocarbon dating meant that many pieces of bone or charcoal had to be bulked together for analysis, perforce leading to the amalgamation of material of potentially differing ages in a dated sample.

Figure 1: Older, imprecise 14C dates can be built into Bayesian models.

As a feasibility study, we modelled 16 14C dates obtained in the 1980s for Danebury Quarry Hollow Sequence A.

This led to many radiocarbon measurements that have poor or uncertain links with archaeological events.

At this time charcoal samples were often not identified to age and species before submission for dating and, even when this was done, charcoal from tree species that might be several hundred years old when cut down was dated; an old-wood offset of a few hundred years was not considered significant within the precision that could then be produced by radiocarbon dating.

At this time the large sample size required for conventional radiocarbon dating meant that many pieces of bone or charcoal had to be bulked together for analysis, perforce leading to the amalgamation of material of potentially differing ages in a dated sample.

Figure 1: Older, imprecise 14C dates can be built into Bayesian models.

As a feasibility study, we modelled 16 14C dates obtained in the 1980s for Danebury Quarry Hollow Sequence A.

This led to many radiocarbon measurements that have poor or uncertain links with archaeological events.

At this time charcoal samples were often not identified to age and species before submission for dating and, even when this was done, charcoal from tree species that might be several hundred years old when cut down was dated; an old-wood offset of a few hundred years was not considered significant within the precision that could then be produced by radiocarbon dating.

Our ability to choose between or improve on the competing social models remains constrained by the lack of a comprehensive 14C chronology for the Danebury sites.