Project development

Radiocarbon dates are fundamental to our understanding of the early history of Wales and the Borders. But, it can be difficult to keep track of all of the dates which are relevant to this study area. This project aims to address this problem.

The Wales and Borders radiocarbon database was begun in 2006 and has passed through three phases of development:

Phase 1. A pilot project which ran for six months and was used to fine tune data collection methodologies.

Phase 2. A full-scale project which incorporated the published sources from 1958 - 2007.

Phase 3. An ongoing programme to keep pace with new publications and to upgrade the existing database.

Phase 1: the pilot project (Jun - Nov 2006)

The project study area was defined as Wales and those English counties which bordered by land, or were in close proximity by sea (from Somerset to Lancashire). This area was defined using the digitised version of the Watsonian Vice Counties, and it should be noted that these do not correlate directly with modern county boundaries.

Study area
The study area is bounded in the south by the uplands of Exmoor, the North Dorset Downs and by Salisbury Plain. In the east it is edged by the valley of the River Severn, and in the north by the flanks of the Pennines.
The study area
The study area, covering 100% of Wales, 16% of England, and almost 20% of Britain's landmass.

The aim of the pilot project was to produce a fully referenced database of radiocarbon dates relating to the study area. It was anticipated that each entry would contain the definitive results of each analysis, as well as details of the date's interpretive value. The conclusion of the project was that this ambition was flawed for two reasons.

1. Transcription inaccuracies

Many analyses have been published with more than one set of dates and / or errors. As of 5 December 2007, of the 2,779 analyses which have been published more than once, 593 (21.3%) suffer from this problem. 383 of these can be resolved by reviewing a laboratory date list published in Radiocarbon or Archaeometry, but the remaining 7.6% of these 2,779 determinations are effectively unresolvable from published sources.

2. Interpretive ambiguities

Radiocarbon dates are cited for different purposes by different people - no single record could capture their various interpretive values. For example, GrN-1245 has been cited as dating the Upton Warren Interstadial (Campbell 1977, table 5), and a treeless environment (Vogel and Zagwijn 1967, 80), as well as an assemblage of three-spined sticklebacks (Stuart 1982, 154).

As a result, when the project entered its second phase it was decided to create records which contained all significant published information about each determination (including the varied dates / errors which have been reported for it), as well as all published interpretive / critical comments - including contradictory observations.

Phase 2: catching up with the old literature (Dec 2006 - Nov 2007)

To be as comprehensive as possible, all journal and monograph series likely to be relevant to the study area were searched from the late 1950s to the present. This included over 3,000 volumes.

A database entry was allocated to each determination, and all published references to that determination were noted in the entry.

Phase 3: keeping pace with new literature (Dec 2007 - )

After the existing literature was searched an on-going maintenance and validation process was begun. This phase of the project will be maintained through a continuing review of new journals and other published sources. The data already existing within the database will also be validated through double-checking and standardising.


Campbell, J. B. (1977) 'The Upper Palaeolithic of Britain: a study of man and nature in the Late Ice Age'. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Volume 2.

Stuart, A. J. (1982) 'Pleistocene vertebrates in the British Isles'. London: Longman.

Vogel, J. C. and Zagwijn, W. H. (1967) 'Groningen radiocarbon dates VI'. Radiocarbon 9, 63-106.