SERVICES & FACILITIES ANNUAL REPORT - FY April 2000 to March 2001

SERVICE Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Dating Service

FUNDING /AGREEMENT

F14/G6/25/01

ESTABLISHED as S&F

TERM

3 years

       

TYPE OF SERVICE PROVIDED:

ORADS (the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Dating Service) carries out dating for projects approved by NERC, as a part of the operation of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU). The Unit specialises in archaeological dating, which encompasses a wide range of issues, such as different materials and burial environments, and complex relationships between the dateable event and the archaeologically significant date.

Radiocarbon dating is applicable to organic material that has survived over the last 50,000 years. The use of accelerator mass spectrometry (the AMS method) permits samples containing 1 mg of carbon and smaller to be dated to an accuracy of about ± 40 years. Choice of each sample is critical, necessitating selection at archaeological, biostratigraphic and chemical levels. In particular, chemical purification methods must be employed to minimise the effect of environmental contamination on the measured date. ORAU has developed over 20 different procedures for this.

Most ORADS projects are for science-based archaeology, but include some environmental projects using ORAU’s expertise in the chemistry of bone dating - such as dating the occupation of identified species of frogs and newts in caves after the last Ice Age. The archaeological projects vary enormously, from establishing the earliest occurrence of "anatomically-modern Man" in Europe to providing a detailed chronology for the phases of a Saxon settlement.

Dating information is vital to the building of archaeological and environmental historical knowledge, and therefore to most of the research in these subjects in the HEIs supportable by NERC. For the most part, ORADS manages numerous proposed individual projects judged worthy of support. An additional, usually lesser, source of projects is as part of Research Grant Awards. ORADS is able to co-ordinate projects, so that the chronological framework of the whole is greater than all the parts.

 

 

 

 

Scores at Last Review (each out of 5) (Date: 2001 )

Need

5

Uniqueness

4

Quality of Service

3.5

Quality of Science & Training

4

Average

4.13

CAPACITY of HOST ENTITY

FUNDED by S&F

20%

Staff & Status

Current contract for c. 250 dates per annum

Next Review (January)

2004

Contract Ends

(31 March)

2005

 

FINANCIAL DETAILS: CURRENT FY

Recurrent Allocation

k

Unit Cost k

Capital Expend

k

Revenue

k

Full cash cost

k

Date

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4

Unit 5

Unit 6

86

0.371

         

12.58

0

98.58

FINANCIAL COMMITMENT (by year until end of current agreement)

c. 91.3 kpa + grant-funding

STEERING COMMITTEE

c. 10

Independent Members

6

Meetings per annum 2/3

Other S&F Overseen

Joint meeting with RCLSC at Oxford - June 2000

APPLICATIONS: DISTRIBUTION OF GRADES (Current FY): Dates (Projects)

a 5

a 4

a 3

a 2

a 1

b

R*/Pilot

Reject

NERC Grant projects

175 (2)

Other academic

70 (3)

127 (8)

74 (4)

44 (5)

23 (3)

Students

30 (1)

18 (2)

27 (3)

1 (1)

Pilot

TOTAL

70 (4)

302 (12)

74 (7)

44 (6)

23 (3)

APPLICATIONS: DISTRIBUTION OF GRADES (per annum average last 3 years)

a 5

a 4

a 3

a 2

a 1

b

R*/Pilot

Reject

NERC Grant projects

136.3 (2)

Other Academic

33.3 (1.3)

96.7 (5.7)

69 (5.7)

2.7 (1.3)

2.67 (1.3)

0.3 (0.3)

66 (4.7)

69 (6.3)

Students

26.6 (0.67)

31 (1..67)

17.3 (1.67)

0.3 (0.3)

Pilot

TOTAL

33.3 (13.7)

233 (9.4

69 (7.5)

2.7 (1.3.3)

2.7 (1.3)

0.3 (0.3)

66 (4.7)

69 (6.3)

PROJECTS COMPLETED (Current FY)

a 5

a 4

a 3

a 2

a 1

b

R*/Pilot

NERC Grant projects

71 (1)

Other Academic

30 (1)

124 (6)

140 (13)

8 (2)

1 (1)

44 (1)

Students

Pilot

USER PROFILE (current FY) *combined non-Thematic and Thematic

Grand

Total

PAYG

Infrastructure

NERC Grant *

Student

NERC C/S

Other

supplement to NERC Grant*

Student

NERC C/S

Other

Total

NERC

Total

NERC

29

1

1

7

2

21

USER PROFILE (per annum average last 3 years)

Grand

Total

PAYG

Infrastructure

NERC Grant *

Student

NERC C/S

Other

Supplement to NERC Grant*

Student

NERC C/S

Other

Total

NERC

Total

NERC

28

1

1

5

1

21

USER PROFILE (current FY)

Academic

29

Centre/Survey

NERC Fellows

PhD

7

Commercial

 

USER PROFILE (per annum average last 3 years)

Academic

28

Centre/Survey

NERC Fellows

PhD

5

Commercial

 

 

OUTPUT & PERFORMANCE MEASURES (current FY)

Publications (by science area & type)

SBA

38

ES

MS

AS

TFS

EO

Polar

Refereed

30

Non-Ref/ Conf Proc

8

PhD Theses

Grand Total

38

Distribution of Projects (by science areas)

SBA

16

ES

MS

AS

TFS

EO

Polar

 

OUTPUT & PERFORMANCE MEASURES (per annum average last 3 years)

Publications (by science area & type)

SBA

31

ES

MS

AS

TFS

EO

Polar

Refereed

25

Non-Ref/ Conf Proc

6

PhD Theses

Grand Total

31

Distribution of Projects (by science areas)

SBA

19

ES

MS

AS

TFS

EO

Polar

 

OVERVIEW & ACTIVITIES IN FINANCIAL YEAR:

JIF project

Work on the new AMS system and laboratory supported by the JIF fund (through NERC) is now well underway. The AMS instrument, which is specifically designed to give optimum performance for high precision radiocarbon measurements, and measurements close to the age limit of the technique, is ready for delivery from HVEE. The new building is under construction and due to be finished in time for the instrument to be delivered at the end of August. We expect the first results from the new instrument early in 2002.

Appointment of new Secretary to ORADS

The Unit was joined in April by Dr Tom Higham, formerly Deputy-Director of the radiocarbon laboratory at Waikato, New Zealand. He will be replacing Dr Paul Pettitt as secretary to the ORADS committee and will be looking at ways to further improve our service to archaeologists and environmental scientists as well as at a number of methodological issues.

Developments in methodology

In preparation for the new AMS system, work is underway to develop techniques for handling compound-specific samples. This includes the commissioning of a new GCCIRMS instrument which is also planned to provide a GCCAMS capability. We have also designed and are currently building as CGMS-AMS interface in conjunction with Dr Baruch Spiro (NIGL).

Quality system

Following accreditation to the ISO-9002 standard last year we have received complimentary audits from the BSI. We are now developing the system towards compliance with ISO-9001:2000, the latest version of the standard. There have been several enhancements to our Quality Assurance system.

An unprecedented number of samples of known-age were dated last year (just over 500) including the samples for the Fourth International Radiocarbon Inter-comparison (FIRI) exercise. The vast majority of these samples (>95%) were as expected but some outliers did enable us to identify an intermittent problem that resulted in some samples being re-dated.

Jerusalem Radiocarbon Conference

Five members of the laboratory attended the Jerusalem Radiocarbon conference and presented five papers (including the keynote address by Robert Hedges) and two posters.

OVERVIEW & SCIENCE SUPPORTED IN FY:

1. Neolithic Chambered Tombs (University of Cardiff; Cambridge University; and others)
This topic includes several projects in which a closer examination is being made of the chronology of chambered tombs. This research is being combined with dietary analysis using stable isotopic data, and with physical anthropology. Highlights include showing a remarkably early date for the unusual Coldrum Tomb in Kent, and interesting isotopic systematics at Prisse la Charriere (W. France) which suggest both the consumption of freshwater fish and the occurrence of a radiocarbon reservoir effect. The implications are still being studied.

2. Dating the lowest levels of Catal Huyuk
Dating from new excavations of this outstandingly important Neolithic site has provided the following:- Start dates for one of the most complex sites in the region; chronological relationships between the various parts of the excavated site: a temporal comparison to the Levantine sequence as a whole: an understanding of the rate of adoption of pottery and domesticates in the region.

3. Extinction of Megafauna in Europe (University College London)
This large project (350 dates over three years, NERC ref. GR3/12599; dates funded as supplement to facility block-allocation) is now fully under way, with half the samples collected. It aims to document the latest reported occurrences of now extinct large mammals (mammoths, rhinos, giant deer, etc) in Europe during Oxygen Isotope Stages 3 and 2. The project is challenging because the samples are small, from museums and often conserved, often contain little collagen, and can be at the date range limit for radiocarbon. Results so far have served to remove many puzzling features on unusually late fauna (usually they were previously mis-dated); there is a suggestion of late survival of Stephanorhinus and Palaeoloxodon, while the southernmost limits of Mammuthus and Megaloceros are now being well documented.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS/STRATEGIC FORWARD LOOK

All future developments are planned around the advantages that will be afforded by the new AMS system to be delivered in the summer. These should be:

  • Improved efficiency (reduced turn-around times and higher throughput)
  • Improved precision (allowing us to work towards higher precision dating - as the pre-treatment techniques develop)
  • Improved background (allowing the reliable dating of older material, and perhaps more importantly the enhanced ability to study methodological issues arising with very old samples).

Our strategy for good stewardship of these resources has been addressed in our paper presented to the AMS strategy group meeting in November 2000. Our research agenda aims to study the 'Evolution of the Natural Environment' and encompasses Terrestrial (including Archaeological), Atmospheric and Oceanographic science. This is being pursued through research collaborations (e.g. on compound specific dating of lipids, atmospheric pollutant and tracer work and our own work on amino acids, chitin-glucosamine and cellulose-glucose) and through the service provision of ORADS.

We see compound specific work as being a key area in further development of the methodology. This implies the ability to efficiently deal with samples right down to the microgram level. We are now constructing (a) an on-line gas feed to the ion source for the measurement of extremely small samples, and (b) a system for collecting CO2 samples resulting from GC-combustion systems (as used in GC-C-IRMS).

Please refer to our strategy paper for further details.

 

Non-Mandatory Facility-specific OPMs: utilisation, allocation of capacity etc