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Radiocarbon Chronologies - ARC00103M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Penny Bickle
  • Credit value: 5 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

Chronology and radiocarbon dating is foundational to much archaeological thought and practice, yet how much time do we really spend thinking and learning about this crucial method? This module will look at the principles and science behind radiocarbon dating, before examining how to produce robust understandings of chronology. We will explore the impact the Bayesian revolution has had on Archaeology and you will get the chance to learn the basic methodology at your own pace. In the assessment you will design your own radiocarbon dating project, something that you may well do either during the course of a PhD or in commercial excavation.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

By engaging with radiocarbon chronologies, students will:

  • Understand the principles of radiocarbon dating and sample selection from archaeological material

  • Become familiar with interpretation and calibration of single and multiple radiocarbon dates

  • Understand the basic principles of Bayesian modelling and how it is applied in archaeological contexts

  • Be able to develop a simple simulated Bayesian model using Oxcal calibration software.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module the students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the principles behind radiocarbon dating

  • Be able to select samples for radiocarbon dating based on best practice and knowledge of different forms of archaeological stratigraphies

  • Be able to calibrate radiocarbon dates

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the principles and limitations of Bayesian modelling of radiocarbon dates

  • Be able to perform a simple simulation in Oxcal

  • Evaluate basic interpretations of radiocarbon chronologies and understand the difference between summed probability, Bayesian modelling and “wiggle matching”

Module content

The module will begin with exploring the history of C14 dating and its application in Archaeology. After learning about sample selection and the analytical process, we will debate how C14 dating can be applied to answering different research questions. Then the course will take a closer examination of calibration, error ranges, offsets and the reservoir effect. Finally, we will explore the impact of the Bayesian modelling on Archaeology. Throughout the course you will have the opportunity to learn the basic principles of calibration and Bayesian modelling. The assessment will take the form of a funding application to the National Radiocarbon facility, giving you a chance to apply the knowledge gained in a setting you are very likely to carry out, both in research and the commercial sector.


Task Length % of module mark
Funding application - 1500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Funding application - 1500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback will be provided within 4 weeks

Indicative reading

Bayliss, A. 2009. Rolling out revolution: using radiocarbon dating in archaeology. Radiocarbon 51, 123-147.

Bronk Ramsey, C. 1995. Radiocarbon calibration and analysis of stratigraphy: the OxCal program. Radiocarbon 37, 425-430.

Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51, 337-360.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.