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UGA hosts Radiocarbon and Archaeology 9th International Symposium

Katie Cowart

More than 100 researchers gathered in Athens in May when the University of Georgia hosted the Radiocarbon and Archaeology 9th International Symposium. The symposium, held at the Classic Center, showcased current archaeological research that employs radiocarbon dating, as well as recent developments in the radiocarbon technique. Along with a full range of academic sessions and lectures, the symposium also included several social events and field trips. 

Visiting researchers toured UGA’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies, the largest and oldest isotope geochemistry lab and radiocarbon dating facility in the United States. UGA archaeologists also led the group on a tour of the Ocmulgee National Monument, a site near Macon with prehistoric Native American Mounds. 

In between trips, researchers presented their recent work. Presenters included several UGA faculty and students. Instructor of anthropology Jessica Cook Hale presented on problems and potentials of using radiocarbon dating on drowned archaeological sites. 

“Now-submerged, formerly coastal landscapes have great potential to render critical information concerning multiple archaeological questions of intense interest, includingthe timing and nature of human entry into the Western Hemisphere,” said Hale. “However, thenature of post-depositional processes at offshore sites, as well as the nature of sitedeposits themselves, present significant challenges to radiometric dating, includingradiocarbon dating. My research suggests potential methods for managing these limitations such that offshore sites, even eroded and deflated ones, can still offer useful information.” 

Assistant professor of anthropology and geography Suzanne Birch presented on the importance of direct dating archaeological remains in reconstructed environments. 

“Using global, regional, and local level paleoenvironmental proxies has become standard practice in the interpretation of the archaeological record. Questioning the role of climate change and its influence on human activity in the past has continued to gain momentum in recent years,” said Birch. “This has implications for the accuracy and validity of arguments based on data derived from these materials.”

Christopher Cooper, a master of science student in geography, presented on evidence of an infrequent and severe fire event in Great National Basin Park, NV. In recent years, forest fires have altered in seasonality, frequency and severity. Cooper’s research aims to understand this phenomenon by studying the complex relationship between forest ecosystems and fire throughout history. 

“This study provides valuable information to park managers concerned with how increases in fire severity may affect terrestrial vegetation and aquatic communities,” said Cooper. 

The symposium also hosted two poster sessions for students with two students winning student presentation awards. Ron Lev, a Ph.D. student at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and Katharine Napora, a Ph.D. student at UGA, both won awards from The Society for Archaeological Sciences and The Southeast Archaeological Foundation, respectively. Each of the awards included a $100 prize. 

Image: conference attendees at the Classic Center.

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