Archaeological Site Index to Radiocarbon Dates from Great Britain and Ireland
The database is now accessible for online searching via the Archaeology Data Service catalogue.
The database originated in a printed index compiled by Cherry Lavell and produced by the Council for British Archaeology in 1971, with four later printed supplements to 1982. The radiocarbon determinations were gathered and collated by hand from all available sources (the journal Radiocarbon plus the entire range of UK and Irish archaeological publications, both national and more local) to produce the most accurate and complete description possible for each published date. Apart from a number of determinations that were poorly (incompletely) published, the list was comprehensive up to 1982; but thereafter the flow of dates from laboratories became too rapid for a part-time editor to collect and process, and in 1986 the collection process virtually ceased.
At about that time, however, a project to computerise the list began under the aegis of R L Otlet and A J Walker (at that time running the Harwell radioisotope laboratory, later in a private partnership - RCD Radiocarbon Dating). However, the lack of proper funding inevitably meant that progress was very slow. Since almost no radiocarbon dating laboratories were producing computerised date lists it was not possible to receive machine-readable dates directly, and manual collection and data-entry still had to be the norm. A fresh burst of activity from 1991 resulted in the accumulation and processing of many more determinations, to a total of some 4000 dates. Records of many more have been copied from the literature but await computerisation; nonetheless there remains a large backlog of material to be gleaned from journals and monographs of the mid-1980s onwards.
The extant computerised data have now been transferred from their original format (the STATUS system of Harwell Computer Power) into the present one. The records are by now as error-free as the editor can make them, but occasional slips may well remain. Nor has it been possible to apply the strict terminological control needed; almost no work has been done on compiling a suitable thesaurus, so users are advised to try alternative terms to improve retrievability. It would be a kindness if users could report any outright errors found so that they can be corrected.
The database should therefore be regarded as somewhat provisional, and the given references checked, because they will nearly always give more details about the sample to assist in assessing both its context and its validity. Users should also bear in mind that post-1982 publications may well have given further details or even offered alternative interpretations of the data represented here.
Information from the CBA's Radiocarbon Index has been supplemented in this database by further dates from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit datelist index (although the database contains less detailed information on these samples). It is intended to approach other Radiocarbon dating laboratories to gather additional dates and update the database on a periodic basis.
The fields included in the current database comprise:
- Name of resource (always specified in format: "Radiocarbon date, Sample number XXX-xxxx")
- Description (featuring a freetext description of the sample, the site from which it came, and any bibliographic references associated with the publication of the date)
- Responsible for Dating (the name of the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory which supplied the date)
- Data compiled from (either the CBA Index, the ORAU database, or Cherry Lavell (CL))
- Responsible for Fieldwork (the name(s) of the archaeologist(s) who submitted the sample for dating)
- Record Maintainers (always given as: "Council for British Archaeology")
- Map reference (given in standard Ordnance Survey National Grid Reference format, when known)
- Radiocarbon Date (the radiocarbon data for the sample quoted according to the "Libby" half-life for carbon-14, that is, 5568 +/- 30 years, plus error term equivalent to plus or minus one standard deviation)
- Period (text description using the usual periods)
- Subject (using the subject classification devised by Cherry Lavell for British Archaeological Abstracts)
- Resource Identifiers (specified in format: "Depositors ID: XXX-xxxx")
- Record last checked (currently always given as: "14 December 1998")
A typical record from the database looks like this:
Name of Resource Radiocarbon date, Sample number BM-809 Description Charcoal from under rampart of smaller fort at Castle Hill, Tonbridge, Kent, England.
Archaeol Cantiana, 86, 1971, 233-4; Archaeol Cantiana, 87, 1972, 219; Archaeol Cantiana, 91, 1976, 61-85; Archaeol Cantiana, 94, 1978, 268-70; Radiocarbon, 18, 1976, 35-6
Project Date(s) Drawn from
choose for collection details
Archaeological Site Index to Radiocarbon Dates from Great Britain and Ireland (Collection) Resource details Data compiled from CBA Index Responsible for Dating British Museum Responsible for Fieldwork J H Money Record Maintainers
choose for contact details
Council for British Archaeology (Contact) Map reference
choose for explanation
(OSGB) TQ 607 438 District/ Unitary Authority Radiocarbon Date 2178 +/- 61 B.P. Period Bronze Age to Iron Age Subject 5a Hillfort Resource Identifiers
use when citing resource
Depositors ID: BM-809 Record last checked 14 December 1998
The database currently holds 6,382 records.
The database can also be consulted offline via the CBA. A typical screen from the offline database is as follows:
Contact point for further details:
Mike Heyworth, Director
Council for British Archaeology
St Mary's House
York YO30 7BZ
tel +(44) (0)1904 671417
fax +(44) (0)1904 671384
Text prepared by Mike Heyworth (CBA Deputy Director & Information Officer) & Cherry Lavell (Radiocarbon Index Editor)
Last updated 18 January 1999
Return to CBA homepage
© Council for British Archaeology, 1999