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Technique and Meaning in C14: Dating the Neolithic of the Levant

About the Lecture:
Within a generation of its invention in the late 1940s, the radiocarbon dating technique became the workhorse of prehistoric chronology building. Since then the development of new sample preparation protocols, better understanding of the sources of uncertainty around the age estimates and invention of new measurement techniques led to the growth of larger, more precise and reliable C14 data sets. Yet the true value of any particular group of C14 dates depends not on how precise they are, but on how well they address the archaeological questions that they are meant to answer. This talk will look at how radiocarbon dating related to questions of the Neolithic of south-west Asia and southern Levant in particular. While the kinds of questions asked during the time of Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations at Jericho could be answered with the sample preparation and measurement techniques of the 1950s, the questions asked today, be they about the fine chronology of Neolithic cultures or the detail of Neolithic practices, require substantial technical (and perhaps conceptual and political) developments. While all these matters are elaborated, the lecture will also review the basics of the radiocarbon dating technique and the statistical treatment of groups dates.

About the Speaker: 
Dr Piotr Jacobsson is a CBRL Visiting Research Fellow at the British Institute in Amman. After completing a research Masters on the place of Cyprus in south-west Asia at the University of Edinburgh, he conducted his PhD research at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre C14 laboratory on the dating of wetland settlement in south-west Scotland. This project, supported by Historic Scotland and a Royal Society of Edinburgh Caledonian Research Fund Scholarship, resulted in the devlopment of an overall dating strategy for wetland sites throughout Scotland. During that time he also co-directed a project on the dating of intertidal settlement on the Scottish west coast. Since 2015, he is undertaking a CBRL-funded review of Cypriot and south-west Asian published legacy dates from the south-west Asia with the purpose of identifying technical and conceptual challenges in the C14 dating of Neolithic in south-west Asia.

This lecture is presented as part of our “Science and Archaeology” series.

All lectures take place at the CBRL British Institute in Amman – 102 Uhod Street.

All are welcome.