How to apply for dating
There are two deadlines for application submission each year, the dates
of which are listed on the NRCF webpage. Usually the deadlines are in
April and October. Applications are submitted online (NRCF webpage).
Three items are required:
Pressing ‘Submit’ on the online form brings up a box,
allowing the CV and 2000 word document to be attached and sent.
- A 4-page proposal document. This forms
the major part of the application. This must be Ariel 11 font, with 2
cm margins. A 4-page appendix may also be included as part of the
proposal (see below for details).
- A brief 1-page CV listing 5 relevant publications (required only
for the principal applicant).
- An online form. Applicants need to register to access this using
a password system.
Once the form and documents are submitted online successfully, a
confirmation email is sent. When the application deadline passes, all
applications are collated and given a number. A further confirmation
email is sent along with letter to be signed on behalf of the Head of
Department of the relevant institution. This must be returned to the
relevant facility secretary.
The 4 page application
There are three categories of application:
Applicants are advised to seek advice on their proposals prior to
submission. This is usually to one of the two facility secretaries.
- Full application:
Radiocarbon dating support is requested for specific samples to support
a significant research project. Most applications fall into this
- ‘In principle’
A research project outline with an indication of the number of dates
that are likely to be required. These are essentially 'statements of
intent' that will be followed at a later date by a more detailed
submission. The 'in principle' application not only gives the
laboratories notice of the numbers likely to be involved in future
dating requests, but it also enables the Committees to provide
feed-back which may strengthen (and therefore increase the chances of
success of the subsequent application). This kind of application is
only worthwhile for a very large project.
- Rangefinder application:
A small number of dates is requested, enabling concentration on parts
of cores or samples relevant to the question being tackled, or as a
pilot study, prior to a full application once more detailed analyses
have been undertaken.
The application should be clear, concise and the analyses requested
must be fully justified. It should comprise:
- Clear and specific aims of the project and the dating application;
- The wider environmental or archaeological context of the
project (noting work by others, collaboration, previous dating work and
- A table listing samples selected for dating, reasons for the
choice of samples and their contexts:
- Justification of sample numbers, sample size, material,
- The sampling method and/or the history of the sample since
- Description of the sample context (on an individual basis
if possible) in relation to the site stratigraphy, or core ,or sediment
sequence as a whole. Where applicable, samples should be identified to
genus, and have secure stratigraphic contexts. It is worthwhile
including stratigraphic drawings, sections and/or labelled photographs. These can be included in an appendix with
references from the proposal document. The appendix also must not exceed 4 pages. Information
of relevance regarding the sampling history and storage of the material
- Explanation of how dating of the sample, or its context,
realises the aims (set out in 1).;
- Clear identification of each sample in the text and on
accompanying drawings or photographs. These should be listed in an
appendix to the main proposal.
- Assessment of possible problems in interpretation. This might
include sources of carbon of different ages; stratigraphic
complexities; taphonomic problems; questions of old wood; calibration
curve influences. Appraise honestly these potential difficulties, and
whether there are means to overcome them.
- Whether new fieldwork will be involved. Whether dating at
other laboratories is planned (such as conventional radiocarbon,
TL/OSL, other methods)?
Where peats and limnic sediments have been investigated, applicants
should note that samples from these contexts must have been taken using
a corer (such as a Russian or a Livingstone) which not only maintains
sample integrity but minimises the likelihood of contamination. Unless
there are exceptional mitigating circumstances, the NRCF will not
accept samples for radiocarbon dating that have been taken with a
Hiller-type corer. It is the normal expectation of the Environment
sub-committee that each dated horizon should be justified. Exceptions
would be, inter alia, where rangefinder dates are requested to
establish the general age of a sequence, or where it is necessary to
establish sedimentation rates, and therefore a series of dates more or
less equally spaced down a profile would be required.
Archaeological samples will normally be of single entity character (see
Ashmore, 1999; Antiquity) and obtained from well-documented contexts.
In some cases (e.g. museum specimens) contextual information may be
limited. Applicants are expected to furnish detailed identifications of
each of the samples proposed for dating (e.g. Equus cab. Calcaneum, or
identifications of requested charcoal samples to species). However,
there is no rigid barrier to archaeologists or environmental scientists
requesting multiple entity dates (e.g. on bones) from otherwise mixed
or confused contexts if the project demands such an approach to the
separation of materials and is shown to be important. Likewise, the
dating of different organic fractions of sedimentary material (e.g.
humic, humin and fulvic components) may be warranted. All such cases,
however, require full and convincing justification. Archaeological
samples must fulfil the requirements listed on the ORAU website
regarding its policy on the dating of
Applications should ideally be in pdf format (or failing that Word
documents) and the size should be kept to a minimum to allow
applications to be sent via email.
Eligibility is restricted to those eligible to apply for NERC or AHRC
grants: members of staff in higher education institutions, or in
government-funded institutes (for example, NERC Centres and Services,
the British Geological Survey and national museums). The position of
the staff member should be clearly stated on the online form (Lecturer,
Reader, Curator etc). Research students may apply for dating support,
but these applications must be headed by their supervisors.
If a PhD student is involved in the project, the importance of the
requested analyses for the completion of the PhD studentship must be
clearly stated in the application form.
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After your application is
Peer review and grading
The NRCF has a panel with two sub-committees, one of which assesses
archaeological applications, and the other all environmental
applications. Projects straddling these subjects are considered by the
whole committee. Each application is evaluated primarily on the basis
of research quality by the relevant sub-committee of the NRCF. Grades
are given according to the following criteria:
• α5 - international level
• α4 - national/international
• α3 - nationally important
• α2 - science/research of
• αl - science/research of local/regional
• β - science/research of adequate quality;
• R - reject.
Within each rating, three sub-levels are used (eg α4 low, mid,
Applications graded at α4 and above are almost always funded.
Where postgraduate students are involved, applications graded at
α3 are usually supported. NERC, AHRC and the Committees are
committed to assisting postgraduates and will often offer additional
advice to applications requesting analytical support for PhD
studentships. Furthrmore it is strongly recommended that postgraduates
(PhD students) visit the laboratories to assist with the determinations
as part of their training. The NRCF provides an annual training
workshop for those interested in knowing more about radiocarbon dating
and its application.
R-graded applications will not be funded, nor will a resubmission be
considered. Where the Committees are of the opinion that not all of the
analyses requested have been justified, a reduced allocation may be
given. Conversely, as noted above, the Committees may award additional
dating support where it is deemed to be appropriate.
It is not uncommon for a grade R* to be given (invited resubmission).
An R* grading means that, while the Committees are not rejecting the
application completely, their view is that it is deficient and cannot
be supported as it stands. Deficiencies may take a number of forms: the
application may lack context or focus, the sampling strategy may not
have been explained, the justification for the number of dates might be
inadequate, or the wider significance of the dates may not appear to
have been appreciated. In the case of an R*, the application is
referred back to the submitter with a full explanation of the
deficiencies, and a resubmission invited. In certain instances, for
example where a student is involved and a thesis deadline is imminent,
the resubmitted application may be dealt with urgently by the Committee
Chairman, whose decision and grading will be reported to the next
Committee meeting for ratification.
Principal applicants will be notified of the panel decision (normally
within two weeks), and successful applications invited to submit their
samples to the respective laboratories. Samples should be accompanied
by completed sample submission forms available online at both
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After your dates are completed
Ownership of data
Ownership of the dates remains with the submitter and NERC for two
years after the age determinations are issued. Dates will not be
published within two years by NERC (or through the Archaeometry date
lists for dates measured at Oxford) without the approval and
co-operation of the submitters; this allows maximum exploitation of
dates for publication by researchers. After this time, however, NERC
may exercise its joint ownership of the results e.g. by publication in
an appropriate date-list. The support of the NERC NRCF, and individual
laboratories must be acknowledged in any publication in which the dates
are used. Copies of these publications, or references to the
publications, should be sent to the relevant laboratory. Publications
are an essential measure of the performance of the facilities and
Principal Investigators are sent periodic reminders for up-to-date
lists of RCL-, ORADS- and CIAF-supported publications that are included
in the annual report from each facility.
Finally, although customer satisfaction questionnaires are sent
periodically to applicants, both the Radiocarbon Laboratories and
Committee Chairs welcome constructive comments on possible improvements
to the dating service from users and potential users alike.
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