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Dating methods


Admission requirements

Admission to an MSc-programme in Archaeology.


This course will focus on the following dating methods:
Radiometric dating: radiocarbon including advanced applications (statistical analysis, reservoir effects), proper assessment of the data obtained.
Luminescence dating: TL, OSL.
Geology: K/Ar, U-series isotopes, ESR relevant for archaeology.
Chemical methods: racemisation, stratigraphies (magnetic, tephra, ice, marine stages).
Dating Pleistocene sites.

Course set-up:
1) C14: natural radioactivity, dating principle, C14 timescale, isotope effects, calibration.
2) C14: statistics, wiggle matching, Bayesian analysis, applications in archaeology.
3) C14: reservoir-effects & stable isotopes, C14 for the archaeologist (“what’s in a date?”).
4) TL, OSL (guest lecture by J. Wallinga).
5) isotope geology relevant for archaeology: dating by U-series, K/Ar, ESR.
6) chemical methods and biostratigraphy: racemisation, palynology, isotope stages (lecture by T. van Kolfschoten).
7) dating Pleistocene sites (Boxgrove, Happisburgh, Schöningen, Dmanisi, etc.)

Course objectives

  • Advanced knowledge of dating based on scientific methods;

  • Ability to assess chronological inference in archaeological research questions.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Discussion session.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lectures;

  • 420 pages of literature.

Assessment method

Essays; one about a specific dating method, the other about a relevant case study.

Both essays together need to be a pass, which is only possible when both essays are submitted in time.
In case of a fail, the lecturer will decide for which of the essays a retake is needed.

The essays need to be completed within 1 month after the last class.

Exam dates and assessment deadlines can be found in the examination schedule

Reading list

  • M. Walker, Quaternary Dating Methods.

  • Handouts.


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.


For more information about this course, please contact J. van der Plicht.