Accuracy vs. Precision: Understanding Potential Errors from Radiocarbon Dating on African Landscapes

Author(s): David Wright

Year: 2015


Primarily located in the tropical latitudes with a diverse array of unique floral and fauna, there are unique challenges for obtaining a reliable chronology for archaeological sites on the African subcontinent. Radiocarbon dating is the most frequently employed method for gaining age control on Late Quaternary sites, however aspects affecting the accuracy of the method are rarely considered. Carbon recycling from reservoirs in old sedimentary structures may uptake into ostrich eggshell or mollusk aragonite. Much of Africa is hot and arid, which promotes bone collagen diagenesis. Cultural factors also affect the accuracy of radiocarbon dating. The use of shells and organic materials as currency throughout prehistory has ensured such items are transported long distances and recycled intergenerationally. In arid and heavily grazed regions, wood can be scarce and there is a tendency to use "old wood" for construction materials. Finally, wiggles in the radiocarbon calibration curve coincide with some of the major cultural transitions in Africa: the beginning of the Later Stone Age, the advent of agriculture, and migration of Bantu speakers into the southern regions of the continent. Given these issues, a multiproxy age control strategy is advocated to ensure a healthy blend of accuracy and precision.

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Accuracy vs. Precision: Understanding Potential Errors from Radiocarbon Dating on African Landscapes. David Wright. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395549)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;