AustArch: A Database of 14C and Luminescence Ages from Archaeological Sites in Australia

Alan Williams, Sean Ulm, 2014

Data copyright © Alan Williams unless otherwise stated

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Alan Williams
Fenner School of Environment and Society
Australian National University
ACT 0200

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Alan Williams, Sean Ulm (2014) AustArch: A Database of 14C and Luminescence Ages from Archaeological Sites in Australia [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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The AustArch dataset can either be queried online or downloaded as CSV files.

The dataset is comprised of a spreadsheet of radiocarbon and non-radiocarbon ages and a spreadsheet of references from where the data was obtained.

Ages are recorded with a series of relevant information (Table 1). At a broad spatial level, each age is listed by bioregion after the Interim Bio-Regionalisation of Australia (IBRA); there are 89 IBRA regions across Australia, defined by unique climate, geology, landform, native vegetation and species information, and they provide convenient divisions of the dataset when exploring regional human behaviour. Additional spatial information in the form of decimal degree longitude and latitude are also documented for all sites, however the accuracy of these varies depending on how the information has been presented in the respective publication.

For each age a range of site information is presented, including the name of the site, the context of the dated sample within the site (i.e. test pit, depth below surface, context), material type dated, and relevant references. We have also included a short description of each archaeological site and its findings in the most recent additions; the usefulness of this inclusion only became apparent partway through the dataset compilation but we are hoping to rectify this in the future. The un-calibrated radiocarbon date and error, along with any associated information on 13C isotope values (which is infrequently published) is also included.

In addition to the archaeological site information, we have included a number of additional fields to support analysis of the dataset and application to time-series or summed probability investigations. Specifically, we include fields of finite identifiers that outline whether the date requires terrestrial or marine calibration, or whether it is unusable (generally due to a lack of key information). We identify whether the site is a closed or open site - this is purely a geomorphic interpretation and is required to apply taphonomic correction procedures. We also identify whether a date directly relates to a human activity (i.e. burial, hearth etc.) or was taken from detrital charcoal or other material within a larger archaeological deposit. This information allows consideration of how much the dataset can be considered to directly relate to 'occupation episodes' or events, which is becoming more important in recent studies. These fields are our interpretations of the data, and not necessarily those of the original researchers.

Where we have identified minor issues within the dataset, such as a researcher using the same laboratory code for two different ages, we have highlighted them in separate fields identified as 'Data Issues' and 'Additional Data Issues'. The same data fields also include other problems, including when only a general location is known, or interpreted from a figure within the publication; where data are correct but do not necessarily relate to human activity (such as dating of deposits under-lying an archaeological site); and where data are considered erroneous by researchers, or have gaps in the published information. Where such issues are considered to be major, the date is listed as 'unusable'.

Table 1. Summary of the field data recorded for each age determination
Data HeadingDescription
ADSIDArchaeology Data Service unique identifier for each age.
IBRA RegionThe location of the site within the relevant bioregion as defined by the Interim Bio-Regionalisation of Australia (IBRA) framework.
Longitude/LatitudeThe spatial location of the site the date was recovered from in decimal degrees.
Site NameThe name of the site the date was recovered from.
Site TypeThe type of site the date was recovered from (e.g. rockshelter, midden, burial etc).
Lab CodeThe unique laboratory code assigned to the respective age. A list of radiocarbon laboratories is available at
AgeThe determined age.
Age ErrorThe error assigned to the determined age.
Carbon-13 ValueIf provided, the 13C isotope value provided with the radiocarbon age.
Carbon-13 Value ErrorIf provided, the error for the 13C isotope value provided with the radiocarbon age.
Material Top LevelThe type of material dated (e.g. bone, charcoal, freshwater shell, marine shell etc).
Material TypeDetailed description of the type of material dated (e.g. wood, charcoal, shell etc).
ContextA brief description of the date location within the excavations (e.g. the test pit and/or stratigraphic unit containing the sample).
Depth from Surface (cm)The depth of the date in relation to the surface (or datum) of the site it was recovered from.
MethodThe method used to calculate the age (e.g. radiocarbon, TL, OSL etc).
TechniqueWhere relevant, this field notes details of the age determination technique, particularly for luminescence ages.
Data pertinent for time-series analysis or calibrationThis field is provided to assist in calibration and/or time-series analysis. It identifies which dates are terrestrial versus marine (the latter requiring additional reservoir correction), and which dates are unusable in time-series analysis, since they do not contain required information (such as location, material dated, radiocarbon errors etc).
Open or Closed SiteThis field records whether the site was closed (i.e. a rockshelter, cave or other enclosed site) or open (i.e. an artefact scatter, midden on a beach etc), and is used in the application of taphonomic techniques in time-series analysis. Please note that 'closed' does not relate to availability or accessibility of information.
Directly related to occupationWhere possible to do so, this field records whether a date could be directly applied to a human activity, such as a hearth or burial, or whether it was simply part of a wider archaeological deposit. This information was recorded to assist in the development of time-series analysis.
SourceThe publication where the age was sourced from.
NotesA brief description of the archaeological site and any findings from which the age was documented. The field also documents any issues with the age (such as erroneous lab code, or possible duplication etc). Please note that this section was substantially developed only in AustArch 2 and 3, and as such several dates have limited information in this field.
Record SourceA summary of whether the entry was measured using radiocarbon or non-radiocarbon techniques.
Date IssuesThis data field provides further detail on whether the entry was considered erroneous by the researchers and/or whether the entry was not related to human activity.
AgeNorm Duplicate of the Age field, but without any non-numerical data to facilitate searching.
Additional Data IssuesThis data field identifies were we have inferred information from a publication to produce the entry, such as where the spatial location has been determined from a published map.

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