The Case for Radiocarbon Dating and Bayesian Analysis in Historical Archaeology

Victor D. Thompson, Richard W. Jefferies, Christopher R. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Few historical archaeologists working on sites that postdate A.D. 1500 employ radiocarbon dating throughout the course of their research. We argue that historical archaeologists underutilize radiocarbon dating, and present the case for its use and Bayesian modeling of the dates. We illustrate these methods with a simulated hypothetical example and an archaeological example from the mission period in the American Southeast. Our work shows that through the careful consideration of sample selection and the integration of prior knowledge regarding the archaeological record, one can dramatically increase the precision of radiocarbon dating on samples from historical sites, which can play an important role in secondary research question formulation and sampling across historical sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-192
Number of pages12
JournalHistorical Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank Jeff Speakman, Director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies, for his support of our work. We appreciate the comments of Tony Krus and Chris Rodning, whose reading improved the overall quality of this paper. We extend our gratitude to Bryan Tucker and the State Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for their support of research on Sapelo Island. Funding for the radiocarbon dates was made possible by a University of Indianapolis InQuery Collaborative Grant and by grants from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Finally, we thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on our manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Society for Historical Archaeology.


  • Chronology
  • Georgia Coast
  • Radiocarbon
  • Spanish Mission Period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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