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9 June 2011
New dating techniques reveal a Stone Age construction boom

A computer programme has been developed which uses a combination of radiocarbon dating and the sequencing of other finds on a particular site, to greatly reduce the previous levels of inaccuracy in dating. This has shown that building techniques and farming spread must faster than previously thought.
     A prime example of this is the dating of Windmill Hill, near Avebury in Wiltshire (England) where the margin of error in dating the site has been reduced from 600 years to 60 years. This narrowing of dates has had a knock-on effect, in so far as there now appears to have been a building boom round about 3,700 BCE, with a rash of hilltop forts and monuments spreading across the country at a rapid pace, spanning the distance between Kent and Cornwall in as little as 50 years.
     Together with other experts, the technique has been developed by Alex Bayliss of English Heritage and Professor Alasdair Whittle of Cardiff University. Alex Bayliss explains the impact of the concertinering of the timescales "The old techniques gave us such imprecise results that it's like taking the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, the Second World War and the computer revolution and insisting that they're all contemporary. Now we can narrow that down dramatically". Professor Whittle believes that "With more accurate dating, the Neolithic Period is no longer the sleepy, hazy swathe of time where it is the default position to lump everything together. This research fundamentally challenges the notion that little happened among our Stone Age farmers."

Edited from The Guardian, English heritage PR, The Telegraph (6 June 2011)

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