Radiocarbon Dating and the Prehistory of Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Peter Robertshaw
Conference paper


The invention of 14C dating was of enormous consequence for archaeology. In due course it provided an absolute chronological framework for later African prehistory that was to upset several notions about the relationship between African and European prehistory and history, which had served as ideological foundations for colonialism. I begin by reviewing some of these early developments; then I briefly examine aspects of the history of 14C dating of the Stone Age followed by a more detailed discussion of the Iron Age. Archaeologists who study the Iron Age and the interface with history are particularly concerned with the issues of precision and calibration. Other current concerns include the absence of active dating laboratories in black Africa and the requirement of many more 14C dates if progress in understanding prehistory is to go beyond the establishment of regional cultural sequences. The final section of the chapter addresses aspects of the future of 14C dating in sub-Saharan Africa.


Radiocarbon Date Charcoal Sample Accelerator Mass Spectrometric African History Radiocarbon Chronology 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1992

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  • Peter Robertshaw

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