Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 3435–3448 | Cite as

The old wood effect revisited: a comparison of radiocarbon dates of wood charcoal and short-lived taxa from Korea

  • Jangsuk KimEmail author
  • David K. Wright
  • Jaehoon Hwang
  • Junkyu Kim
  • Yongje Oh
Original Paper


Due to the “old wood effect,” wood is not an ideal material for radiocarbon dating if there are other options available. However, in regions where short-lived taxa are not well preserved, archeologists face a dilemma whether to use wood dates to construct archeological interpretations, often leading to controversies over validity of their chronologies. To systematically access this problem, this paper evaluates the intensity of the old wood effect in Korea. First we compared radiocarbon dates assayed from five wood and 32 soybean (Glycine max) samples obtained from a prehistoric pithouse in central-western Korea. Statistical analysis shows that there is no significant disparity in the ages between the materials in this case. To further assess the issue, we compared 24 cases from the Korean Radiocarbon Database in which both wood and short-lived taxa were found and dated from the same house feature. The results demonstrate that, in general, the old wood effect is not substantial in Korea. However, further analysis of these results suggests that the potential for an old wood effect increases slightly over time in Korea, despite the fact that there was no significant climatic change. We interpret the adoption of iron for woodcutting around the first century BCE as a catalyst for a noted increase in the thickness of wood timbers of houses, which consequently produced conditions more opportune for the occurrence of an old wood effect. It suggests that the variability of an old wood effect can be the result of technological factors even within the same general physical environment.


Radiocarbon dating Old wood effect Korea Comparison Temporal variability 



We thank Sung-Mo Ahn, Jongtaik Choi, Seonho Choi, Jaeyong Lee, and Chuntaek Seong for valuable comments on earlier version of this paper. This paper is an advanced version of our previous preliminary report submitted to the Journal of Korean Ancient History (Hwang et al. 2016). The cases and numbers used in present paper have changed slightly because we adopted a more rigid assessment protocol than the previous report.

Funding information

This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2016S1A5B6924370).


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Archaeology and Art HistorySeoul National UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Department of ArchaeologyChungnam National UniversityDaejeonRepublic of Korea

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