Peopling the past: creating a site biography in the Hungarian Neolithic


Bayliss A, Beavan N, Hamilton D, Köhler K, Nyerges ÉÁ, Bronk Ramsey C, Dunbar E, Fecher M, Goslar T, Kromer B, Reimer PJ, Bánffy E, Marton T, Oross K, Osztás A, Zalai-Gaál I & Whittle A (2016) Peopling the past: creating a site biography in the Hungarian Neolithic. Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission, 94, pp. 23-91.

First paragraph: For most regions and for most sequences around the world, prehistorians until now have only been able to assign the past people whom they study to rather imprecise times. Such imperfect chronology is the result of our reliance on radiocarbon dating and a conventional approach to the interpretation of radiocarbon results which relies, basically, on the visual inspection of calibrated dates. Thus, typically, a radiocarbon sample from a few thousand years ago will calibrate to a date spanning 100–200 years (at 2σ). A group of such samples will not produce identical calibrated dates, even when they derive from the same event, and archaeologists visually inspecting a graph of such dates tend to include the extremes of the timespan indicated, and thus considerably exaggerate the duration of a given phenomenon as well as accepting the relative imprecision of its dating (BAYLISS ET AL. 2007).In the European Neolithic there has been a longstanding tradition of inferring chronology by summing, first uncalibrated (OTTAWAY 1973; GEYH / MARET 1982; BREUNIG 1987), and then calibrated (AITCHISON ET AL. 1991) radiocarbon dates. This method similarly tends to produce inaccurate chronologies of exaggerated duration (BAYLISS ET AL. 2007, 9–11). For the fortunate few, in regions with favourable conditions in which timbers are preserved, dendrochronology can provide dates precise to a calendar year and even to a season within a given year, for example among the Pueblo settlements of the American Southwest or the Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements on the fringes of the Alps in west and central Europe (e.g. HERR 2001; MENOTTI 2004). In most regions, however, such preservation and such chronologies are exceptional.

Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission: Volume 94

Publication date31/12/2016
Date accepted by journal29/03/2016
PublisherHeinrich Editionen for Deutsches Archaologisches Institut