Archaeological radiocarbon dates are obtained by measuring the carbon-14 age of fossilized organic materials excavated during archaeological digs. These dates are increasingly being used as a proxy for studying population change and are helping scientists estimate not only when and where ancient populations lived, but also how many people there could have been in the past.
Michelle Chaput, a PhD student in the physical geography program, and Konrad Gajewski, professor and director of the Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, have been working with North American radiocarbon data to understand past changes in population density. Chaput and Gajewski, in partnership with archaeologists Andrew Martindale (University of British Columbia), Michael Blake (UBC), Andrew Mason (UBC), Matthew Betts (Canadian Museum of History) and Pierre Vermeersch (University of Leuven), are now working on building the world’s largest online database of archaeological radiocarbon dates (www.canadianarchaeology.ca).
The database is being populated by radiocarbon measurements from around the world (and in some cases measurements obtained via potassium argon, uranium-lead and thermoluminescence methods) which range from the recent past to 40,000, and even 60,000 years, before present. Some parts of the world, including North America and Australia, are well represented. However, many dates have not yet been digitized and exist only in the grey literature, which makes this project challenging. Currently, there are over 70,000 dates available in the database with new dates being added regularly. Users are invited to upload their own data or download the existing data for research purposes.
The database, referred to as the CARD (Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database), was recently featured in a Nature newsletter. The newsletter is available at http://www.nature.com/news/world-s-largest-hoard-of-carbon-dates-goes-global-1.22287.