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Historical Archaeology

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 181–192 | Cite as

The Case for Radiocarbon Dating and Bayesian Analysis in Historical Archaeology

  • Victor D. ThompsonEmail author
  • Richard W. Jefferies
  • Christopher R. Moore
Technical Brief

Abstract

Few historical archaeologists working on sites that postdate A.D. 1500 employ radiocarbon dating throughout the course of their research. We argue that historical archaeologists underutilize radiocarbon dating, and present the case for its use and Bayesian modeling of the dates. We illustrate these methods with a simulated hypothetical example and an archaeological example from the mission period in the American Southeast. Our work shows that through the careful consideration of sample selection and the integration of prior knowledge regarding the archaeological record, one can dramatically increase the precision of radiocarbon dating on samples from historical sites, which can play an important role in secondary research question formulation and sampling across historical sites.

Keywords

Chronology Spanish Mission Period Georgia Coast Radiocarbon 

Abstracto

Pocos arqueólogos que trabajan en sitios históricos posteriores a 1500 D.C. emplean la datación por radiocarbono durante el curso de sus investigaciones. En este artículo se sostiene que los arqueólogos históricos subutilizan la datación por radiocarbono, y se presenta el argumento a favor de su uso y de los modelos bayesianos para las fechas. Se ilustran los métodos con un ejemplo hipotético simulado y un ejemplo arqueológico del período de las misiones en el sureste estadounidense. A través de una cuidadosa consideración de la selección de muestras y la integración de conocimientos previos sobre el registro arqueológico, es posible aumentar notablemente la precisión de la datación por radiocarbono en muestras procedentes de sitios históricos, que podrán desempeñar un papel importante en la formulación de preguntas y muestreo en la investigación secundaria de sitios históricos.

Résumé

Peu d’archéologues historiques travaillant dans des sites ultérieurs à l’an 1500 de notre ère ont recours à la datation par le carbone 14 dans le cadre de leur recherche. Le présent article avance que les archéologues historiques sous-utilisent cette méthode. Il plaide ainsi en faveur de son utilisation et de la modélisation bayésienne des dates. Les méthodes sont illustrées à l’aide d’un exemple hypothétique simulé et d’un exemple archéologique de la période des missions du Sud-est américain. En tenant soigneusement compte des échantillons choisis et en intégrant des données déjà acquises sur le dossier archéologique, on peut dramatiquement rehausser la précision de la datation par le carbone 14 des échantillons provenant de sites historiques, lesquels peuvent jouer un rôle important dans la formulation des hypothèses de recherche secondaires et l’échantillonnage des sites historiques.

Notes

Acknowledgments:

The authors would like to thank Jeff Speakman, Director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies, for his support of our work. We appreciate the comments of Tony Krus and Chris Rodning, whose reading improved the overall quality of this paper. We extend our gratitude to Bryan Tucker and the State Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for their support of research on Sapelo Island. Funding for the radiocarbon dates was made possible by a University of Indianapolis InQuery Collaborative Grant and by grants from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Finally, we thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on our manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensU.S.A.
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonU.S.A.
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of IndianapolisIndianapolisU.S.A.

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