Magnetic moments in the past: Developing archaeomagnetic dating for application in UK archaeology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Life Sciences

Abstract

The applicants have recently collaborated on, and published, research which establishes a methodology for using measurements of the past magnetic field of the Earth for dating archaeological materials in the last 4000 years in the UK. The primary aim of this project is to realise the potential of this research by developing its practical application in UK archaeology.

Building a chronology is the single most important step in the study of the human past and scientific dating is now fundamental to archaeological investigations. Archaeomagnetic dating has great potential: it dates fired clay and stone, for example hearths, kilns, ovens and furnaces which occur frequently on archaeological sites; it dates the last use of features, providing a clear link to human activity; it is cost-effective and is potentially most precise in periods where other dating methods, such as radiocarbon dating, are problematic. There is increasing interest in using archaeomagnetic dating as part of the suite of chronological tools available to archaeologists. This is demonstrated by the explicit requirement to consider its use in recent best practice guidance produced for the development-led archaeology sector and by its increasing use in excavations conducted by the commercial archaeological sector (it is estimated that 50-100 archaeomagnetic dates per year are currently commissioned).

However, whilst academic research establishes the scientific basis for the use of the method, it has yet to be adopted routinely. This is partly due to a lack of accessible information allowing evaluation of its suitability in specific archaeological circumstances and partly because there is no coordinated, centralised record of existing archaeomagnetic measurements. This project will address these deficiencies by developing a web-based resource and database which will collate all existing UK archaeomagnetic data and allow the user to address specific questions, such as the expected errors in a particular period, the suitability of specific types of features and the existence of previous studies in the same region or on the same type of feature. Archaeomagnetic dates are produced by comparing measurements of magnetic direction obtained from archaeological materials with a record of geomagnetic field variations built up from archaeomagnetic studies of archaeological features dated by other methods. The proposed project will not only allow users to calibrate magnetic measurements to obtain dates, but it will also allow new data to be incorporated in the geomagnetic field model, thus improving the technique for future use. The latter aspect is particularly important as the technique improves as more data is collected for the calibration record.

The project combines academic research at the University of Bradford with the expertise of English Heritage in developing best practice within the English archaeological sector. The project outcomes will primarily be useful to archaeologists working in both commercial and research settings and to those advising and budgeting for archaeological investigations.

Publications

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Description This project combined academic research at the University of Bradford with the expertise of English Heritage in developing best practice within the English archaeological sector. The project outcomes are primarily be useful to archaeologists working in both commercial and research settings and to those advising and budgeting for archaeological investigations.



Key project findings include:



New knowledge: We have added over 200 new archaeomagnetic dates to the database of UK studies, significantly increasing the information available for projects in the future.



New resources: The database and website act as an excellent resource for projects, archiving data for use in research projects at undergraduate, postgraduate and higher levels. It has already demonstrated where work is needed in the discipline to improve it further.



Case study material: The database holds information of types of monuments sampled for archaeomagnetic dating, or from specific periods of time. Case studies have been developed from the data, allowing detailed reviews of existing studies and the potential for the development of future projects that target gaps in the knowledge.
Exploitation Route New knowledge: The development of the website and database to promote archaeomagnetic dating has allowed a wide audience of people to gain information about the technique outside of the academic sector. The information was not readily available or accessible in the past, but can now be viewed by anyone who is interested and who has an internet connection.



Improved quality: The information now available allows English Heritage and other heritage managers staff to advise on the use of archaeomagnetic dating appropriately.



New networks and skills development: The website has allowed better communication between archaeologists and archaeomagnetists that will benefit both communities. This will result in a greater awareness of archaeomagnetism and its application to archaeological sites in the UK. This will hopefully encourage archaeologists to consider the use of the technique in the future. The website can also be used as part of a personal development programme for people working in the commercial sector, demonstrating what the technique can be used for and the sort of features that can be sampled.



Increased efficiency: The website displays clear information about how to investigate a feature in terms of its potential for archaeomagnetic dating, and the steps that need to be taken for the feature to be sampled. This improves efficiency in the application of the technique in terms of addressing questions about what can be sampled, timescales and costs involved, and the laboratories that carry out the work.
Sectors Construction,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.brad.ac.uk/archaeomagnetism/
 
Description This project combined academic research at the University of Bradford with the expertise of English Heritage in developing best practice within the English archaeological sector. The project outcomes have been used by archaeologists working in both commercial and research settings and to those advising and budgeting for archaeological investigations. In 2018 participants in the project ran a workshop for archaeologists from commercial companies, training them to take samples for archaeomagnetic dating and raising awareness of the method. This has led to an increased uptake of the method.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Construction,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Use of archaeomagnetic dating in UK archaeology
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Collaboration, Capacity and IP Development Grants
Amount £9,038 (GBP)
Organisation University of Bradford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description Historic Scotland Archaeology Programme
Amount £53,676 (GBP)
Organisation Historic Environment Scotland 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2019
 
Description Radiocarbon Facility
Amount £8,625 (GBP)
Funding ID NF/2017/2/7 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Department NERC Radiocarbon Facility (Environment)
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2018
 
Title UK archaeomagnetic database 
Description A database of UK archaeomagnetic studies has been developed, which is archived at the University of Bradford. The database is also archived with the ADS and funding has been secured to translate the file into a web-searchable database on the ADS website. The data contained will also be added to international geomagnetic databases. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2009 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The database is widely used by UK archaeologists in assessing previous studies in regions of interest. 
URL http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/magmoments_ahrc_2010/
 
Description Magnetic Moments in the Past 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This project combined academic research at the University of Bradford with the expertise of English Heritage in developing best practice within the English archaeological sector. The University of Bradford contributed our expertise in collation and evaluation of archaeomagnetic data. We trained the staff involved in relevant IT and communication skills.
Collaborator Contribution English Heritage contributed data from their archives, advice on the commercial archaeological applications and access to their staff.
Impact Outcomes for the Research Fellow Case study material: The database holds information of types of monuments sampled for archaeomagnetic dating, or from specific periods of time. Case studies have been developed from the data, allowing detailed reviews of existing studies and the potential for the development of future projects that target gaps in the knowledge. Teaching material: The project has allowed access to a large quantity of archaeomagnetic data that is relevant to archaeomagnetists and archaeologists. I am able to use the data for student projects, as a teaching aid and for workshops/student training in the future. Career development: I have benefitted from formal links and collaborative work with English Heritage and my expertise has been valued within the University of Bradford, through requests to advise others on similar partnerships. Further research: The data gathered has been part of a number of academic papers and a further KT application has been submitted to English Heritage to develop the collaboration further. Expertise: I have attended a number of courses during the project, and have gained significant experience in database design and construction, development of websites and HTML language, and the construction of KML files for use in Google Earth. I have particularly valued the opportunity to present the project to English Heritage staff and other professional archaeologists and gain their perspective. Further collaborations: Discussions with archaeologists at conferences has developed potential collaborations, both with other academics and with archaeologists working in the commercial sector. Outcomes for the HEI International recognition: The outcomes of the project were presented at the international European Geosciences Union conference (Vienna, 2010), and received positive feedback from leading experts working palaeomagnetism in terms of the approaches used, including Prof. Constable, director of the Magnetics Information Consortium (MagIC). Recognition in non-academic communities: The value of the project was recognised at the IFA conference, where we received excellent feedback from archaeologists about the value and benefit of the website and database to UK archaeology. New knowledge: We have added over 200 new archaeomagnetic dates to the database of UK studies, significantly increasing the information available for projects in the future. New resources: The database and website will act as an excellent resource for projects, archiving data for use in research projects at undergraduate, postgraduate and higher levels. It has already demonstrated where work is needed in the discipline to improve it further. Outcomes for the partner New knowledge: The development of the website and database to promote archaeomagnetic dating has allowed a wide audience of people to gain information about the technique outside of the academic sector. The information was not readily available or accessible in the past, but can now be viewed by anyone who is interested and who has an internet connection. Improved quality: The information now available allows English Heritage staff to advise on the use of archaeomagnetic dating appropriately. New networks and skills development: The website has allowed better communication between archaeologists and archaeomagnetists that will benefit both communities. This will result in a greater awareness of archaeomagnetism and its application to archaeological sites in the UK. This will hopefully encourage archaeologists to consider the use of the technique in the future. The website can also be used as part of a personal development programme for people working in the commercial sector, demonstrating what the technique can be used for and the sort of features that can be sampled. Increased efficiency: The website displays clear information about how to investigate a feature in terms of its potential for archaeomagnetic dating, and the steps that need to be taken for the feature to be sampled. This improves efficiency in the application of the technique in terms of addressing questions about what can be sampled, timescales and costs involved, and the laboratories that carry out the work.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Archaeomagnetic Sampling Course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Workshop for archaeological professionals in the applications of archaeomagnetic dating and practical instruction on taking samples.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Contribution to meeting of Association of Local Government Officers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Awareness raising with c. 30 professional in the field.

Increased informed requests for use of the method.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Invited Lecture Royal Astronomical Society 'Using archaeological information in geomagnetic models: potential and pitfalls' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited contribution to workshop entitled 'Targeted Palaeomagnetic Study of the SW Pacific' funded by NERC
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Keynote conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact International Symposium on Archaeometry, Merida, Mexico May 2018
Keynote paper: Archaeomagnetic dating: building on Martin Aitken's firm foundations (Batt)
Research paper: Developing archaeomagnetic dating in the British Neolithic (Harris and Batt)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://isa2018.mx
 
Description Presentation at the European Geophysical Union Annual Meeting. Vienna, Austria 2010. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Wide interest from those working in similar fields across the UK.

Suggestions of collaborative work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010