World's largest hoard of carbon dates goes global
Radiocarbon dating has long been used to reveal the age of organic materials — from ancient bones to wooden artefacts. Scientists are now using the amassed dates for wider applications, such as spotting patterns in human migration. And a Canadian database is poised to help researchers around the world to organize this trove of archaeological and palaeontological data, and to address problems that have plagued carbon dating for years.
Set up in the 1980s, the Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database (CARD) is undergoing an expansion that began in 2014. The database currently holds 70,000 radiocarbon records from 70 countries. The latest effort aims to make the software behind the site open source, making it easier for other research groups to set up their own version of CARD while still contributing core information to the main database. The first such site should come online within the year.
There are other radiocarbon databases out there, but CARD is by far the largest, says Robert Kelly at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, who is collecting data to contribute to CARD. It’s also the only one so far with global ambitions, he says. “This is big data. That’s where the action is,” says Kelly. “We’ve spent 60 years running radiocarbon dates, and you can do a lot with them if they’re all in one place.”