August 31, 2016

Interdisciplinary Chronology of Civilizations Project (ICCP)

Funding awarded by the Malcolm Hewett Wiener Foundation, with matches by the College of Science and other UA units, has initiated a major new research project. The Interdisciplinary Chronology of Civilizations Project or ICCP is building on a unique University of Arizona (UA) legacy of innovative interdisciplinary chronological research between the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (LTRR), the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and the School of Anthropology.

Back in the late 1920’s collaborative work of astronomer / inventor of the science of tree-ring dating A.E. Douglass and UA anthropologists such as Emil Haury transformed archaeological dating in the SW USA by establishing a chronological resource for the region that provided dates that were accurate to a precise calendar year. This work facilitated some of the first systematic studies to establish causal correlations between the impact of climatic events and phase changes at archaeological sites – made possible by accurate chronology derived from a proxy record for climate. Then in the late 1940s the unique tree-ring techniques developed at UA began to play a central role in the development of a second revolution for archaeological dating—establishing the radiocarbon method. LTRR scientists provided the first wood samples of precisely known age to establish and test Willard Libby’s “Curve of Knowns” and over the following decades contributed to major milestones in technique development through the supply of dated samples from bristlecone pine and other wood species. This included the discovery that the radiocarbon content of the Earth’s atmosphere has varied overtime from decades to centuries and the application of this knowledge in the radiocarbon calibration method.

As we enter what appears set to be the next dating revolution–a move by radiocarbon labs worldwide to understand global fluctuations in atmospheric radiocarbon at an annual scale–the ICCP will build on this historic legacy with a specific focus on time periods of critical significance to the synchronization of archaeological chronologies in the Aegean and Near East between c.6000 to c.400 BC.


Building on and expanding archaeological research networks established as part of the UA’s Center for Mediterranean archaeology and the environment (CMATE), the ICCP is combining tree-ring chronologies and high resolution radiocarbon analysis to accelerate chronological research in the wider Aegean region through an archaeologically informed, multi-proxy approach. A primary objective is the creation of an annually-resolved radiocarbon calibration curve from c. 2500-1000 BC which will be used to address key chronological issues for Aegean and Near Eastern archaeology. This work represents the first stage of what we hope will be a longer duration project contributing to global efforts to enhance the precision and accuracy of radiocarbon analysis for a wide range of users.