The use of summed radiocarbon probability distributions in archaeology: a review of methods

Alan N. Williams*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    393 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Using a database of Australian archaeological radiocarbon dates (n = 2996), this paper explores three key methodological issues associated with the use of summed probability plots of radiocarbon data: 1) the minimum sample size needed for a statistically reliable plot; 2) the effect of radiocarbon calibration on the structure of these plots; and 3) the application of a taphonomic correction to such time-series data. The results identify several protocols, recommended as best-practice when using summed probability plots: 1) a minimum sample size of 500 radiocarbon dates should be used, and the sample size and the mean of the standard deviations of the radiocarbon dates (Δ T) in the sample should both be reported; 2) a moving average trendline of 500-800 years should be used to offset the effects of the calibration process; and 3) Surovell et al. " Correcting temporal frequency distributions for taphonomic bias" [. Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (2009) 1715-1724] is explored, with modifications and temporal limits (<25,000 cal years BP) proposed. Correction of time-series data using theoretical taphonomic correction curves is useful as a heuristic tool but can obscure real trends if applied routinely. Comparison between summed probability plots and other occupation data is presented and shows good correlation. However it is recommended that plots are supplemented by other archaeological indices and the cross-comparison of such multiple proxies will strengthen identification of occupation trends.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)578-589
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
    Volume39
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012

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