Archaeochronometry theme


A key requirement for archaeologists and palaeo-anthropologists is to know the age of important events, artefacts and fossils. Without such chronological information, these events cannot be reliably placed in the correct time order, which prevents any meaningful conclusions from being drawn about possible causes and consequences.

CAS has three dating laboratories, each of which contains state-of-the-art facilities for the analysis of very small samples. This miniaturisation in the scale of analysis removes many of the impediments to accuracy and precision in age determinationassociated with the measurement of bulk samples. Instead, materials most closely related to the archaeological event of interest can be preferentially selected for analysis, and these materials can be thoroughly cleaned of contaminants before ages are determined.

The three CAS laboratories are equipped for:

  • Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of archaeological and geological sediments containing grains of quartz or feldspar. The laboratory has world-class facilities and an international reputation for the measurement of individual grains of sand, which forms the backbone of research projects led by Bert Roberts and Zenobia Jacobs.
  • Amino acid racemisation (AAR) dating of fossils, such as eggshell and mollusc shell, found at archaeological and geological sites. This laboratory is likewise equipped with state-of-the-art instruments to measure the chemical properties of miniscule samples, such as the individual foraminifera analysed by Colin Murray-Wallace and his team.
  • Preparation of archaeological and environmental samples for radiocarbon (14C) dating of specific organic compounds. In this laboratory, individual biomolecules can be identified, extracted and purified for dating, under the direction of Allan Chivas.

CAS members also have access to the latest generation of U/Th, U/Pb, 40Ar/39Ar and 14C dating facilities as a result of collaborative ARC LIEF applications with the University of Queensland, the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University.

Archaeochronometry projects


Last reviewed: 1 November, 2017