Guidance Notes

How to apply for dating support

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:
  1. 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).
  2. A brief 1-page CV listing 5 relevant publications (required only for the principal applicant).
  3. An online form. Applicants need to register to access this using a password system.
Pressing ‘Submit’ on the online form brings up a box, allowing the CV and 2000 word document to be attached and sent.

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:
  1. Full application: Radiocarbon dating support is requested for specific samples to support a significant research project. Most applications fall into this category.  
  2. ‘In principle’ application: 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.
  3. 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.
Applicants are advised to seek advice on their proposals prior to submission. This is usually to one of the two facility secretaries.

The application should be clear, concise and the analyses requested must be fully justified. It should comprise:
  1. Clear and specific aims of the project and the dating application;
  2. The wider environmental or archaeological context of the project (noting work by others, collaboration, previous dating work and relevant references);
  3. A table listing samples selected for dating, reasons for the choice of samples and their contexts:
  4. 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.
  5. Whether new fieldwork will be involved. Whether dating at other laboratories is planned (such as conventional radiocarbon, TL/OSL, other methods)?
Notes for Environmental applications:
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.

Notes for Archaeological applications:
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 Antiquities.
Submissions that request support for dating samples associated with genetic research or stable isotope projects will be required in almost all cases to provide the data from the DNA work in the form of a coalescence tree or Bayesian skyline plot, and some of the actual stable isotope data. Failure to do so usually results in applications being sent back for clarification or rejected.

File formats

Applications should be in PDF format 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 submitted

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 a set of criteria which is shown here.

Applications graded at 7 and above are almost always funded. Where postgraduate students are involved, applications graded at 6 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. Furthermore 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.

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. A reapplication must include a 1-2 page covering letter outlining a response to the points raised by the panel in their feedback to the submitter.

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 laboratories).
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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-, NRCF- 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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