Frequently Asked Questions


Do you accept late applications?

No. If you miss an application date, you must wait until the next one. There are 2 rounds per year.

Is it possible to obtain advice on my draft application before I submit it?

Yes. Contact either of the two facility secretaries and they will provide feedback and advice on your application and answer any specific queries concerned with your samples, number of requested analyses, selection of material or application guidelines.

Can I apply for radiocarbon funding for future fieldwork?

No. You must have the samples already collected. It is not possible to ask for radiocarbon support for material that is not collected, or has permission pending.

How many samples can I apply for?

It is usually the case that for full applications, sample numbers are between 1 and 50. Applications for more than this (up to 100 analyses) can be awarded in some exceptional instances, but if analyses requested are likely to exceed this, then analytical support should be sought elsewhere, e.g. via NERC or AHRC grant funding, to avoid distortion of the block-funded facility resources being allocated to one particular project. There is no advantage to large or small applications. The sole criterion is scientific and academic excellence.

How many dates do I need for my site?

Estimating how many samples might be required is often tricky and requires careful thought. The widely used OxCal software has a simulation option, which can be used to gain an idea of the number of determinations required in order to gain benefits in chronological terms. Phases, sequences and other relative information may be included in a simulation, which is based on a Bayesian statistical method. This helps answer these types of ‘what-if’ question. It is increasingly apparent that the main question is not how many dates one should apply for, but which dates, and where from. Because of the non-monotonic nature of the calibration curve, sometimes having 10 dates from a single phase is not much more advantageous than having 1. Using Bayesian methods and a simulation approach helps us to check this before we actually spend money on radiocarbon dating. It helps us to decide which of the samples that have been collected should be radiocarbon dated in order to maximise the information we obtain in terms of calendar age ranges.

In some cases, there will be doubts over even the approximate age of the material being considered for dating. In this case, rangefinder dates may be more appropriate. A date from the bottom, middle and upper part of a sequence or site can sometimes be a useful starting point, from which further dates can then be proposed. Often, a two-step approach such as this is advantageous.

NRCF staff are able to advise on these approaches.

I have a question about the feasibility of dating a specific type of sample, or a direct concern about the suitability of samples that I want to radiocarbon date. What should I do?

You should contact the relevant facility and discuss it with a member of staff. We are very happy to answer queries prior to the submission of a proposal. Often it will save time and avoid rejected applications. Certain types of material are often challenging to date and require technical expertise and comment. NRCF staff can provide help here.

What samples cannot be applied for?

Some samples cannot be handled by the NRCF. These include samples that contain hazardous chemicals and toxins (e.g. mercuric chloride (HgCl2), arsenic), samples containing or likely to contain certain pathogens (e.g. Anthrax, TB) and samples imported from non-EU countries without an appropriate Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) licence. For ORAU there are similar concerns, especially regarding bone material, and applicants are advised to discuss potential problems of this nature with the laboratory. It is recommended that applicants seek advice from NRCF staff regarding the suitability of the proposed sample material before sample collection takes place.

In the part of the form concerned with overall sources of funding, I have none, but the form won't let me submit without completing that section. What should I do?

You must put in 'na' (not applicable) or unfunded if you do not have funding (ie do not leave the box blank). If you have funding, it is important to include it, so we can track which bodies are supporting your research already.

Can I date radiometric samples as well as accelerator mass spectrometry samples?

No. The NRCF only dates samples by AMS radiocarbon dating.

I don’t have much information regarding my site, and limited plans, sections, stratigraphy. The site was excavated a long time ago. What should I do?

The panel recognise that in some instances (for example where sites were excavated decades or centuries ago) that this information is not always available. You must state why you do not have these data, and justify why funding would still be important. The panel will judge each case on its merits.

How soon after receiving notification can I submit samples?

Immediately. You will need to complete an online sample submission form and send your samples to the laboratory. Information on sample packaging, storage and submission is available on the relevant laboratory web pages.

How quickly will I get my results?

The turnaround time for the two laboratories varies but averages 4-5 months. Contact the facility for updated turnaround times.

If you need rapid, urgent results, complete that section of the online form and liaise with the relevant facility. It is possible that more urgent samples be prioritised if necessary, for example for a student deadline or important conference.

I am a student. Can I still apply?

You cannot apply individually. You must apply with your supervisor or with an eligible person. You can be listed as a co-Applicant but you may not be a Principal Applicant.

Where do I get a JeS username from?

JeS is the online electronic submission system for the Research Councils UK and you need a JeS username in order to apply to the NRCF. You simply need to go to https://je-s.rcuk.ac.uk/ and register for a UserID, which is then emailed to you after your institution has checked your eligibility. 

I’d like to learn more about radiocarbon dating, and visit the facility, is this possible?

Yes. The NRCF implements a short course in radiocarbon dating, which gives advice, describes the methods used, and gives practical guidance on methods of interpretation. This is held once a year. You can contact the facility to arrange a visit at any time. These are welcome.

After I have received my results, is it possible to receive help and advice about how to go about interpreting them?

Yes it is. If you are using OxCal and need help regarding Bayesian methods, you can join the OxCal discussion group. If you have queries regarding pre-treatment chemistry, measurement issues, calibration or reproducibility, you are welcome to contact facility staff.

What Quality Assurance is available for results obtained from the NRCF?

Routine analysis of quality control materials are used to monitor the total suite of sample processing procedures. Both facilities regularly organise and participate in international laboratory inter-comparisons, the most recent being the Fifth International Radiocarbon Inter-comparison (VIRI). Results of these can be made available on request. Previous inter-comparison data is published. Contact the facility for more information.

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