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Research article2007Peer reviewed

Radiocarbon dating of prehistoric hearths in alpine northern Sweden: problems and possibilities

Liedgren LG, Bergman IM, Hornberg G, Zackrisson O, Hellberg E, Ostlund L, DeLuca TH


The chronology of prehistoric Sami settlement sites has previously been established by conventional radiocarbon dating of bulk charcoal samples associated with hearths from sunken hut floors (stallo-foundations). Here we present results of a comprehensive dating exercise of stallo-foundations in the alpine area of northern Scandinavia using Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating of charcoal. Over a 3 km 2 study area, AMS calibrated ages of hearth charcoal from 22 stallo-foundations across 12 sites securely date these features to between cal. AD 640 and AD 1180. Only small variations in age were found between charcoal samples from different areas of a given hearth. Statistical analysis of all the charcoal AMS radiocarbon dates obtained reveals that 12 stallo-foundations across nine sites are contemporaneous and date to the Viking Period (AD 800-AD 1050). The tightly constrained AMS-based chronology of stallo-foundations contrasts with the existing chronology based on conventional radiocarbon analysis, which places these features within a significantly greater time-frame of between AD 600 and AD 1900, with most dates ranging between AD 800 and AD 1350.This discrepancy is likely to result from the necessity of collecting composite hearth charcoal particles, which may originate from different phases of occupation, in order to achieve the required final carbon content for conventional radiocarbon analysis. We argue that the new AMS-based radiocarbon chronology of stallo-foundations presented here supersedes the existing chronology based on conventional (Gas Proportional counting) radiocarbon analysis and we advocate the use of AMS radiocarbon dating in future hearth investigations. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved

Published in

Journal of Archaeological Science
2007, Volume: 34, number: 8, pages: 1276-1288