Radiocarbon dating and Bronze Age burials part 1

Things have been very busy lately, what with my digging full time, working on publications, and trying to organise myself for my forthcoming trip to Bestansur (mega-excited about this one).

In my spare time, I’m attempting to put together some data on Early Bronze Age cremations and radiocarbon dates.   This is an interest which has developed out of my radiocarbon dating of four sites during my PhD (which this blog is titled after).  For anyone interested in how radiocarbon dating works here is an explanation far better than what I could do

The dates on cremations I gained were interesting in various aspects – the range of the dates, the sites, and, the area of interest which has only rarely been the subject of radiocarbon dating.  As I am currently working on publishing these dates (with Rick Peterson and Mick Wysocki of UCLan) I’ve been pondering things on a broader scale.

The majority of past dates associated with cremation burials have been done on charcoal, as dating cremated bone is a relatively recent scientific development!  Charcoal can be less reliable than bone due to something called the ‘old wood effect’.  In some cases it gives wider date ranges than cremated bone, this can be seen in the comparison of dates from burial G at Whitelow, Lancashire.  David Barrowclough dated charcoal prior to the re-discovery of most of the human remains from Whitelow.  While the Barrowclough date and my date of burial G are relatively similar, the date from the bone has a narrower range of error (that’s the ±28) and this results in a narrower date range overall.

Date Burial Sample BP Cal BC %
SUERC -4456 H Quercus, charcoal 3515 ± 35 1940-1730 95.4
SUERC -4457 G Quercus, charcoal 3470 ± 40 1890-1680 95.4
SUERC -4455 L Cremated bone 3495 ± 40 1920- 1730 95.4

Radiocarbon dates from Whitelow Cairn from Barrowclough (2008).

Number Context Date BP Cal BC 95%
OxA-26844 Cremation F 3599 ± 28 2027-1891
OxA-26849 Primary cremation 3555 ± 28 2010-1776
OxA-26846 Cremation C 3527 ± 28 1938-1760
OxA-26845 Cremation C 3499 ± 34 1919-1740
OxA-26848 Cremation D 3503 ± 27 1900-1746
OxA-26847 Cremation G 3496 ± 28 1895-1743

Results of the 2012 radiocarbon dates of five cremation deposits from Whitelow.

This can overall give us a better understanding of burial sequences at these sites, and can also improve our sequences of associated artefacts such as pottery (that’s for you Neil Wilkin!).

Cinery UrnImage courtesy of Bury Art Gallery and Museum

Another reason to radiocarbon date cremations can be demonstrated through the Late Neolithic date of a cremation from Hindlow in Derbyshire. 

Date Burial Dates BP Cal BC (95.4%) (unmodelled) Modelled dates Cal BC
OxA-25385 Bateman cremation 4244 ±32 BP 2915-2703 2914-2699


Overall my aims now are to find as many existing dates on Early Bronze Age cremated bone as possible so I’ll then be able to see where there is a need for more.  My database so far includes England, Scotland, and Wales but I will potentially look to include Ireland.  There is quite a lot of dates from Scotland due to the scheme carried out by the National Museum of Scotland.  I now need to find as many as possible from different areas of England, so if anyone out there knows of any, feel free to post on here or tweet me.

At some point I might put my database online.

That’s all for now, It might be quiet on here for a bit as I am busy preparing for my Bestansur trip see the link for more detail.  I will be excavating, and analysing Early Neolithic remains from late March through April.



3 responses to “Radiocarbon dating and Bronze Age burials part 1

  1. Pingback: Wood for the trees | shelteringmemory·

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