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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Andrew R Millard

Millard, AR (2008). Comment on article by Blackwell and Buck. Bayesian Analysis 3(2): 255-262.

Author(s) from Durham


Radiocarbon dating has come a long way since Willard Libby first conceived of the
method (Libby et al. 1949; Arnold and Libby 1949) that was to earn him a Nobel Prize.
Today we might consider Libby to be lucky that he could not detect the deviation from
the expected radiocarbon decay curve. This was due to a combination of the imprecision
of his measurements and his known age samples only spanning the last 5000 years. If
Libby had been able to make more precise measurements the technique might never
have been developed as the fundamental assumptions would have appeared to have
been breached from the very start. Of course the deviation of radiocarbon content of
known age samples from the expected values was discovered within a few years of Libby’s
initial publications and radiocarbon calibration curves have been in development ever
since. The latest version of the calibration curve is INTCAL04 (Reimer et al. 2004),
and owes its mathematical formulation to Buck and Blackwell (2004, Buck et al. 2006),
and future curves will depend on their elaboration and extension of that description in
the paper under discussion here.