Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage web based Radiocarbon database

Mark Van Strydonck

The Radiocarbon dating laboratory of IRPA/KIK was founded in the 1960s. Initially dates were reported at more or less regular intervals in the journal Radiocarbon (Schreurs 1968). Since the advent of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s it had been a common practice amongst radiocarbon laboratories to publish their dates in so-called 'date-lists' that were arranged per laboratory. This was first done in the Radiocarbon Supplement of the American Journal of Science and later in the specialised journal Radiocarbon. In the course of time the latter, with the added subtitle An International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research, became a regular scientific journal shifting focus from date-lists to articles. Furthermore the world-wide exponential increase of radiocarbon dates made it almost impossible to publish them all in the same journal, even more so because of the broad range of applications that use radiocarbon analysis, ranging from archaeology and art history to geology and oceanography and recently also biomedical studies.The IRPA/KIK database

From 1995 onwards IRPA/KIK's Radiocarbon laboratory started to publish its dates in small publications, continuing the numbering of the preceding lists in Radiocarbon. The first booklet in this series was "Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage Radiocarbon dates XV" (Van Strydonck et al. 1995), followed by three more volumes (XVI, XVII, XVIII). The next list (XIX, 2005) was no longer printed but instead handed out as a PDF file on CD-rom.

The ever increasing number of dates and the difficulties in handling all the data, however, made us look for a more permanent and easier solution. In order to improve data management and consulting, it was thus decided to gather all our dates in a web-based database. List XIX was in fact already a Microsoft Access database that was converted into a reader friendly style and could also be printed as a PDF file. However a Microsoft Access database is not the most practical solution to make information publicly available. Hence the structure of the database was recreated in Mysql and the existing content was transferred into the corresponding fields. To display the records, a web-based front-end was programmed in PHP/Apache. It features a full-text search function that allows for partial word-matching. In addition the records can be consulted in PDF format.

Old records from the printed date-lists as well as new records are now added using the same Microsoft Acces back-end, which is now connected directly to the Mysql database. The main problem with introducing the old data was that not all the current criteria were available in the past (e.g. stable isotope measurements). Furthermore since all the sample information is given by the submitter, its quality largely depends on the persons willingness to contribute as well as on the accuracy and correctness of the information he provides. Sometimes problems arrive from the fact that a certain investigation (like an excavation) is carried out over a relatively long period (sometimes even more than ten years) and is directed by different people or even institutions. This can lead to differences in the labeling procedure of the samples, but also in the interpretation of structures and artifacts and in the orthography of the site's name. Finally the submitter might change address, while the names of institutions or even regions and countries might change as well (e.g.Zaire - Congo)

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