EXPERIENCE OF USE OF THE RADIOCARBON METHOD DATING OF EARLY SLAVIC SITES FROM UKRAINE (1970—1987)


  • O. V. Komar Institute of Archaeology, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Keywords: radiocarbon method, chronology, calibration of dates, archeology of the Early Slavs, Zmievi Valy («Snake Ramparts»).

Abstract

The introduction of radiocarbon dating method in USSR and Ukrainian archeology was much slower compared to world practice. Natural scientific methods of dating in archeology have found quick application for the study of prehistoric sites — from the Paleolithic to the late Bronze Age. Much more time passed before the method began to be used for dating of sites of the 1st and 2nd millennium AD.

The initiative of serial sampling from the medieval archaeological complexes of Ukraine for radiocarbon analysis initially came not from archaeologists. This led at the first stage to a confrontation between traditional archaeological methods of analysis and the new «revolutionary» approaches of the natural sciences.

In 1968 mathematician A. S. Buhai collected 63 samples of charcoal from different parts of the «Zmievi Valy» («Snake Ramparts») and hillforts of the Kyiv region. At least 34 results were obtained from 3 different laboratories. All results attributed the time of existence of fortifications not to the Middle Ages, but to the 2nd century BC — 7th century AD, what caused the emergence of the sensational concept of the Early Slavic state in the Middle Dnieper region long before the formation of the Old Rus’ state.

Institute of Archaeology (Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR) has developed a big project for complex researches of these fortifications led by M. P. Kuchera. During 1974—1985, many fortifications of «Zmievi Valy» in different regions were studied archaeologically. The facts of overlapping of settlements of the 3th—7th centuries AD by ramparts as well as the presence of Old Rus’ artifacts of the 10th—13th centuries in the body of wooden and earth structures of ramparts were recorded. Stratigraphic and archaeological data confidently dated the ramparts to the Middle Ages, while 28 radiocarbon dates for samples, carefully selected from wooden constructions of fortifications, showed a chaotic spread of dates from the 24th century BC until the 14th century AD. The verdict of M. P. Kuchera on the possibility of using the radiocarbon dating method for the archeology of Middle Ages was naturally negative.

Geologist L. V. Firsov faced a similar problems after collecting in 1970 of 57 samples from archaeological complexes of Chersonesos and 33 samples from other sites of Crimea. Believing in the high accuracy of the radiocarbon dating method, he tried to explain the wide scatter of radiocarbon dates from the same medieval objects by their existence for half a millennium, what was rejected by archaeologists.

The Institute Archeology and the Radiocarbon Laboratory of the Institute of Geochemistry and Mineral Physics af the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR managed joint project to get answers to the topical questions of Ukrainian archaeologists concerning the possibilities of the radiocarbon dating method in archeology. Two institutes approved a joint plan theme for 1973—1978 «Determination of the age of archeological sites by the natural scientific methods», for which a Coordination Council was established, led by D. Ya. Telegin and E. V. Sobotovich. According to the first report of the group, 237 samples were collected from various archaeological sites, for which 148 datings were successfully obtained (62.4 %).

Cooperation continued further, but radiocarbon dates for archaeological cultures of the historical period from Ukraine had a little accuracy again on this stage of the radiocarbon method development (1974—1987). Thus, out of 31 examined medieval samples only 5 matched to archeological datings. 12 samples from sites of 6th — 10th centuries gave 7 dates, only 4 of them were in agreement with archaeological dating. For 12 samples from sites of Zarubyntsi and Chernyakhiv cultures 5 dates were received, and only one was in agreement with archaeological dating. The problem of the difference in these cases cannot be solved with the help of modern calibration of radiocarbon dates.

After the complete fiasco of the initial stage of the radiocarbon dating of the medieval archaeological objects from Ukraine (1970—1973), a small step forward was made in 1974—1987. But this did not convince archaeologists in the rationality of using the method of radiocarbon dating for cultures with a wide choice of dating markers. The situation remained stable until the present stage of development of the accelerator mass spectrometry dating which makes again actual the renewal of the program of radiocarbon dating for the Early Slavic cultures of the 1st millennium AD.

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Published
2019-03-25
How to Cite
Komar, O. V. (2019). EXPERIENCE OF USE OF THE RADIOCARBON METHOD DATING OF EARLY SLAVIC SITES FROM UKRAINE (1970—1987). Archaeology and Early History of Ukraine, 30(1), 254-267. https://doi.org/10.37445/adiu.2019.01.20