School awarded funding for national radiocarbon facility

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has awarded Oxford University and the NERC laboratory in East Kilbride, Scotland £5.6 million to run the national radiocarbon facility for the next 5 years. 

The facility will work across two sites and provide radiocarbon measurements for archaeological and environmental scientists across the UK. 

The Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU), part of the School's research laboratory, provides a radiocarbon dating service for researchers working in a wide range of disciplines where radiocarbon is a useful tool. This dating service operates on a collaborative and commercial basis, supporting all stages of radiocarbon dating from project design and sample choice right through to data analysis. The part of the NERC service based at Oxford principally provides funded radiocarbon dating research services to the academic community working on archaeological and environmental projects involving human and faunal aspects, and also training and support for data-analysis across the broad range of NERC's remit. 

ORAU was one of the first radiocarbon accelerator facilities in the world, and has remained a world-leading laboratory since its inception. It has developed several innovative methods that have led to more reliable dating of archaeological samples, as well as the software required to calibrate and statistically analyse dates from archaeological and environmental sites. The new dating techniques developed by the ORAU played a fundamental part in a recent archaeological discovery published in Natureallowing researchers to establish a chronological timeline for a cave in Siberia which is the only place in the world where fossils have been found that belong to mysterious ancient humans called Denisovans.

The award of the NERC contract provides core funding for this work to continue. It will also allow significant investment in capital equipment and new instruments, including the purchase of a new accelerator. As well as supporting research, this funding allows the continuation of teaching the next generation of scientists via the annual radiocarbon and Bayesian modelling workshops that run in the Oxford University lab. 

Director of Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art, Professor Christopher Ramsey said: 'This is a huge vote of confidence in what the radiocarbon lab has been doing over the last few years. Radiocarbon dating is the most important technique for determining the age of archaeological and recent geological material, and this funding support from NERC, along with the new accelerator, will help consolidate Oxford’s position as a world leader in radiocarbon-related science'.