Fundamentally, the aim of my research is to rescue archaeology from the mire of fuzzy chronology to which visual inspection of calibrated radiocarbon dates consigns us, and to reclaim ‘time of the middling sort’ for our, particularly prehistoric, narratives.
Archaeology is good at the long-term, indeed it has carved a niche within the academy as discipline with a long reach back into time.
Bayesian mathematics provides a tool for combining radiocarbon dating results on findings from an archaeological context with independent archaeological information such as the chronological order, which may be inferred from stratigraphy.
My contribution in this area has been to extend the method from its initial application to radiocarbon dates, to application to a wide variety of other dating methods, including uranium-series, luminescence and ESR dating.
This has been applied to a major re-evaluation of the dating evidence for hominid fossils in the timeframe 500,000 to 50,000 years ago.
The small pieces of bone were combusted to produce carbon dioxide which was then put through a mass spectrometer.
Testing two pieces each at two different facilities should provide consistent results – and indeed it did. The proportion of C-14 in the atmosphere, and hence in living things, is not constant but varies over the centuries, and it also varies between the atmosphere and the oceans.
I am currently actively involved in a number of major research projects: This is a large-scale and long-term research project to provide a generational-scale chronology for the internationally important tell at Çatalhöyük, Turkey, which has been at the heart of discussions of Neolithic lifeways for more than 50 years.
The 19m of Neolithic deposits are seminal for our understanding of key developments in Neolithic life from the domestication of cattle and the adoption of a settled way of living, to the invention of pottery and metallurgy, and the appearance of long-distance trade.My research is a mixture of work conducted alone and collaborative projects with a range of scholars within Durham (I have collaborated with colleagues in Archaeology, History, Earth Sciences, Geography and Mathematics) and external to Durham (including Leiden, Groningen, Cambridge, Sheffield, British Geological Survey).Bayesian statistics, as applied to dating in archaeology, allows the combination of different types of dating methods, substantial improvements in the resolution of dates, and the assigning of dates to events previously considered undateable.But if they are earlier than 1485, then they can’t be Richard’s remains.Radiocarbon dating is a commonly used technique which relies on the fact that, although 99% of carbon atoms have six protons and six neutrons (carbon-12), about 1% have an extra neutron (carbon-13) and about one atom in a trillion has two extra neutrons (carbon-14).Chronology is fundamental to our understanding of the past.