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$200,000 NSF grant supports radiocarbon research

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 12:52pm
Cornell University

The Department of Classics has received a $200,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating research in the Near East, based at Cornell's Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology.

Lab Director Sturt Manning, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Classical Archaeology at Cornell, is co-principal investigator with Timothy Jull, director of the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory Facility. Together with a postdoctoral scholar, students and other colleagues, they will collect and analyze tree rings from southern Jordan, Europe and North America to establish a high-resolution radiocarbon timeline for archaeological and environmental dating in the eastern Mediterranean.

The research will be critical in determining the correct timeframe for Biblical archaeology and thus early Biblical history, and timeframes and histories of ancient cultures of the region.

As radiocarbon dating has become more precise, Manning said, "there have been active and vigorous debates over key topics like the exact dating of early Israel and the precise timeframe of early Biblical history, among others. These debates have serious implications for how we interpret and understand the early history of these civilizations and have profound effects on a number of fields centered on the history and culture of the world of the Hebrew Bible and its contemporaries."

Using high-resolution accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon analysis, tree-ring samples of a known age from the eastern Mediterranean, precise to the calendar year, will be compared with known-age tree rings from Germany, Ireland and North America. Differences in the growing seasons of plants in different areas -- potentially an important issue in some current scholarly disputes -- will be among the key topics more accurately assessed than in the past, Manning said.

The research findings "will provide the basis for archaeological, early historical and environmental chronologies in the Near East and east Mediterranean to be accurate as well as precise," he said.

The project will develop existing collaborative research on tree rings in Jordan by the Cornell Dendrochronology Laboratory, in partnership with the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan.

Concurrent radiocarbon-based work at the University of Arizona's AMS laboratory "will provide an important opportunity to test and develop the accuracy and precision of this key U.S. facility central to NSF-sponsored, radiocarbon-based work across several fields, from archaeology to a range of the environmental and geological sciences," Manning said.

Manning's lab and the Department of Classics received an NSF award of more than $100,000 in 2009 for the Kalavasos and Maroni Built Environments Project, to study relationships between architecture, social interaction and social change in an early civilization on Cyprus.

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