3rd International Symposium

14C and Archaeology

A.J. Timothy Jull, Arizona AMS Facility,

University of Arizona

After a break of some 11 years from the second symposium, the 3rd International Symposium on 14C and Archaeology took place in Lyon, France, 6-10 April, 1998. The meeting’s focus was to discuss problems of radiocarbon chronologies and applications and consequences for archaeology. The conference was ably organized by Dr. Jacques Evin and Christine Oberlin of the Centre de Datation par le Radiocarbone (CDRC) of the Université Claude Bernard - Lyon and other organizations. The previous two meetings of this conference had occurred in Groningen, the last in 1987. The meeting had a heavy European emphasis, probably due to the fact that over 85% of the around 200 participants were from European countries (including the European part of Russia). Less than a dozen North American and Australasian scholars were present. The meeting was a welcome opportunity to try and discuss archaeological and dating problems (and successes) amongst two groups who often interact less than one might expect.

Several presenters discussed new possibilities for calibration schemes for radiocarbon based on varve chronologies (Van der Plicht) and maybe even oceanic cores (Grootes et al.). However, the tree ring calibration was extensively summarized by Bernd Kromer and Edouard Bard gave an impressive summary of the situation with the coral 14C vs. U-Th chronology, en français of course. The appearance of a new Radiocarbon volume devoted to calibration is expected within the year, which will provide the current "best calibration" based on tree rings and corals.

Subsequent sessions dealt with a myriad of topics, in some cases preceded by a "working group report" which in many cases was presented in a rather dry fashion, with insufficient visual aids. There were a large number of posters. The technical papers themselves were generally of good quality. I learned much about archaeological problems, which I as a radiocarbon specialist might otherwise dismiss as "poor sampling". I hope my archaeological counterparts also learned a little about dating and that "bad dates" can sometimes tell you something important. Sessions focused on the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Peopling of the British Isles, historical periods, as well as different geographic areas. "Grandes séries de datations" occupied more speakers’ time than was perhaps needed. In these talks, often a wide range of dates in huge collections of all dates on some specific area were presented. Perhaps after this conference, the use of such databases without some reference to the quality of the measurement (the dater’s problem) or the sample (the archaeologist’s problem) will become less common. These types of presentations would be best done as posters. For myself, some of the best talks focused on specific dating problems, such as "AMS dating of charred food remains" by Rupert Housley (Glasgow).

At this point, it is perhaps important to note that the conference was conducted in 2 languages, English and French, with simultaneous translation facilities. This resulted in some dichotomy between the presentations in different languages, especially during the question periods, when the language situation could become a little confused. However, in general, thanks to the excellent translators, the proceedings went smoothly. Certainly, this procedure allowed more discussion than might have otherwise occurred. As one who listened to both languages with equal interest without the translator’s version, I realized that the language discord could be a wonderful analogue for the problems confronting archaeologists and radiocarbon specialists. Sometimes, it would appear that these two groups are talking different languages. Perhaps this is the reason for this conference. I believe that better communication between these two groups, the "daters" and the "archaeologists" is critical.

As might be expected, the social events for the conference were exquisite. Lunches were provided for all. A welcoming reception was held at the historic "Hotel de Ville" of Lyon. Indeed, we learned at this reception that the city representative of Lyon was well aware of radiocarbon dating, due to an archaeological excavation for the town hall parking lot! An excellent banquet took place on a river boat, the "Hermes", which cruised the Rhône and Saône for several hours with magnificent views of old Lyon.

In my opinion, we need more such conferences to discuss the deeply intertwined, but sometimes apparently separate, topics of archaeology and radiocarbon dating. The next conference is expected to be held in Oxford early in the next millenium, in 2001. It is to be hoped that the next meeting will bring the diverse viewpoints of these two scientific communities closer together. More participation from the Americas and Australasia would also held broaden the Eurocentrism apparent in several of the presentations.