Almost exactly 50 years ago this month, at a conference held in Monaco, nuclear physicist Hans Suess unveiled the first calibration curve for radiocarbon dates. The crucial paper, ‘Bristlecone pine calibration of the radiocarbon time scale from 4100 B.C. to 1500 B.C.', pushed back conventional radiocarbon ages by several centuries and so ushered in the Second Radiocarbon Revolution, soon leading to a new interpretation of European prehistory that severed the long-held connections between Europe and the Near East. Hitherto, diffusionism had held centre stage, with maps full of arrows showing people and artefacts incessantly on the move. With radiocarbon calibration, independent regional development became the order of the day for explaining cultural change. Fifty years on, however, a range of promising new techniques have become available that seem to reinstate some of the earlier narratives.
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