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**Analysis of Radiocarbon Dating Statistics in Reference to the Voynich Manuscript
**

Buck and Blackwell, The University of Washington, 2004 Abstract : In this paper we identify potential errors in radiocarbon dating with the view to evaluating the Voynich manuscript

14C

data. Anyone reading this journal should have a

basic understanding of statistics. The radiocarbon ages were calculated using the procedure of Stuiver and Polach,(1977 Radiocarbon, Vol.19, No. 3, p. 355-363.) The errors include the statistical (counting) error, the scatter of results for standards and blanks, and the uncertainty in the delta13C determination. The Oxford Radiocarbon laboratory rounded errors in their measurements of the Shroud of Turin and the controls that were below 40 to 40 BP years. Keyword : Voynich manuscript, error multiple factor, BP age. 1. Introduction : Radiocarbon dating (sometimes simply known as carbon dating) is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 (14C) to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years.[1] Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" (BP), "Present" being defined as 1950. Such raw ages can be calibrated to give calendar dates. One of the most frequent uses of radiocarbon dating is to estimate the age of organic remains from archaeological sites. When plants fix atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic material during photosynthesis they incorporate a quantity of

14C

that

approximately matches the level of this isotope in the atmosphere (a small difference occurs because of isotope fractionation, but this is corrected after laboratory analysis. After

he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for this work.e. 2. protein vs. The U. Counting errors. 3. In 1960. state that counting statistics do not represent all the . Potential sources of error in radiocarbon dating are: 1. Comparing the remaining 14C fraction of a sample to that expected from atmospheric 14C allows the age of the sample to be estimated. carbohydrate vs. including an ancient Egyptian royal barge of 1850 BC 2. Errors from delta 13C isotope dilution measurements. i. 6. Terrestrial radiocarbon age calibration curve. 5. He demonstrated the accuracy of radiocarbon dating by accurately estimating the age of wood from a series of samples for which the age was known. different solvents used for removing surface dirt.e. by humans or other animals) the 14C fraction of this organic material declines at a fixed exponential rate due to the radioactive decay of 14C. Type of sample. carbonate. of Arizona corrects their measurements for Delta 13C isotope dilution and for 14C background contamination. Preparation of sample. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry background 14C contamination. Emilio Segrè asserted in his autobiography that Enrico Fermi suggested the concept to Libby in a seminar at Chicago that year. i. The technique of radiocarbon dating was developed by Willard Libby and his colleagues at the University of Chicago in 1949. Libby estimated that the steady state radioactivity concentration of exchangeable carbon-14 would be about 14 disintegrations per minute (dpm) per gram.2 plants die or they are consumed by other organisms (for example. 4.

New Zealand (see Table 1).21* 124 Waikato 10 +/. The tree ring data set for the years between 1400 and 1500 used Belfast Irish oak.04* 100 .2 22.3.4 1.37 407 Belfast Irish Oak 2002. The University of Washington (Seattle data set) supplied most of the measurements. Table 1 Laboratory Belfast Irish Oak 1986 Offset 1 2 k No.0 22. The offset was determined by inter-laboratory comparisons.2 21. additional variability in measurements was assigned to the data sets from Belfast and from Waikato. was assigned to the Seattle data. 2004 4 +/. 1 is the expected standard deviation based on the counting statistics. When the consortium correlated the data resulting from various wood samples from different labs for the 2004 the atmospheric decadal tree ring data set.6 1.3 uncertainties in radiocarbon dating and that the errors resulting from type of sample. the average standard deviation of the individual samples i .9 1. they applied an error multiplier k to the estimated standard deviations (SD) of the various data sets. k = 1. preparation and laboratory differences are difficult to quantify.100 samples analyzed. An error multiplier. k = 2/ 1 2 is the standard deviation in the 14C age of replicate samples with +/.5 29.1 21.samples -6 +/.3 27.

al. the average standard deviation of the individual samples i 5. As this is improbable. w an estimate SD for the weighted mean. 2. 3. 355 363. No. 4. A discussion on the reporting 14C data is given Stuiver and Polach (Radiocarbon. Reimer et. p. according to the individual error estimates. The appropriate statistics being: 1. weighted. The mean of the values.3. Mw and unweighted Mu. u an estimated SD for the population of sample measurements where the individual estimates are ignored. n the number of values. 2 is the standard deviation in the 14C age of replicate samples. Vol. we are dependent on statistical estimates using current data. Mw. 1 is the expected standard deviation based on the counting statistics. It is usually referred to as an estimate of the . 1977. 19. recommend that an error multiplier factor should be included with all radiocarbon dating results.) There is no doubt that a more reliable estimate of the true age of the Vinland map would be obtained if additional independent measurements were available. w2 = 1/sum i-2 for i = 1 to n 7. using the individual sample estimates in the weighting.4 *includes previously applied laboratory error multiplier. 6. i is the estimated SD for an individual sample measurement.

5 standard error of the mean and may be used as an approximation for the total error. u2 = 22/n 8. Nonstatistical fluctuations in the instruments or the measurements. The data and results are given in Table 2. Table 2 Vinland map Shroud of Turin Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 14C BP yr i 14C BP yr i 14C BP yr i 14C BP yr i 14C BP yr i 338 ± 116 406 ± 30 537 ± 51 486 ± 26 574 ± 69 591 ± 30 690 ± 35 606 ± 41 701 ± 33 922 ± 48 1838 ± 47 724 ± 42 986 ± 56 2041 ± 43 778 ± 88 829 ± 50 1960 ± 55 764 ± 45 996 ± 38 1983 ± 37 602 ± 38 894 ± 37 2137 ± 46 825 ± 44 . for the Vinland map. Chi square a statistic used to estimate the uncertainties in data without making the additional measurements. of Arizona. 2. this affects the accuracy of the results. and the Shroud of Turin. Failure to detect systematic errors. 3. and controls. There are limitations to applying statistics to experimental data: 1. Carelessness. Mw ± w and Mu ± u values were calculated for five different 14C data sets previously published by the U.

1992.5 1. 1950.7 925 ± 69 1992 ± 110 739 ± 84 925 ± 31 1992 ± 49 739 ± 38 927 ± 46 1995 ± 46 721 ± 51 927 ± 20 1995 ± 20 721 ± 20 925 ± 32 1995 ± 46 722 ± 43 1.010 ± 80 yr BP. sample 3 linen from Cleopatra s Mummy. Bevington.5 1. i. age measured by scintillation counting = 2. D. sample 2 11-12th century linen.7 1. .6 Range Chi sq Df Significance 236 9 4 5% 110 9 3 4% 167 9 4 5% 299 22 4 1% 223 17 4 2% Mu ± 2 Mu ± u Mw ± 1 Mw ± w U of A k = 2/ 1 468 ± 96 468 ± 43 468 ± 58 468 ± 17 468 ± 27 1.5 The formulae for calculating the various statistics used in this table are obtainable from any statistics book.R. I consulted Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences.6 1. P.6 2. df degrees of freedom sample1 the Shroud of Turin.4 2.9 ksher ~ u/ w 2. and Robinson.e.6 646 ± 57 646 ± 29 646 ± 35 646 ± 17 646 ± 31 1. BP years before present.

vol 46 No. No.7 sample 4 cope from St Louis d'Anjou dated at ~ AD 1290 1310. p 1034-1036 emphasize the contribution of the largest error measurement to 1. It appears that an additional error multiplier factor should be applied to the stated error for the Vinland map. k. Table 2 shows that in all cases a chi square of 5% or less was obtained. the estimate of the standard error of the mean. This table also shows that u. but not for the Vinland map. agrees reasonably well with the estimates the U of Arizona reported for the total errors for the Shroud of Turin and the three controls. Vol.al. should be applied to each data set. the scatter of results for standards and blanks. and that an error multiplier factor. The k calculated according to the procedure of Reimer et.) The errors include the statistical (counting) error.(1977 Radiocarbon. Table 2 also shows that w is considerably less than u. A chi square was calculated for the five data sets in order to determine whether the errors from the individual measurements adequately represented the total error. 355-363. . The Oxford Radiocarbon laboratory rounded errors in their measurements of the Shroud of Turin and the controls that were below 40 to 40 BP years. 3. and the uncertainty in the delta13C determination. making it unlikely that the counting errors represent the total error in the radiocarbon dating of the above five samples. For the Shroud of Turin and controls the radiocarbon ages were calculated using the procedure of Stuiver and Polach. (2004. thereby making the corresponding k value smaller. 3.19. p. Radiocarbon. The method I use sensibly de-emphasizes the larger errors and in turn makes the ksher value larger.

We have extracted a portion of the data used .radiocarbon.4 with a level of significance of 5%. Table 3 Sample Arizona Oxford Zurich Chi sq (2df) Shroud of Turin Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 646 ± 31 750 ± 30 676 ± 24 6.8 Table 3 shows a comparison of the mean 14C BP years reported by U of Arizona for the four Shroud of Turin samples with those reported by the two other laboratories of equal prestige. The chi square (2 degrees of freedom) calculated for this data is 6.995 ± 46 722 ± 43 940 ± 30 1.940 ± 30 685 ± 34 0.1 90 1.htm. perhaps due to different sample preparation methods. This indicates the possibility of the presence of systematic errors in the radiocarbon measurements for the Shroud of Turin.org/IntCal04.980 ± 35 755 ± 30 941 ± 23 1. The need to provide the best possible data for converting radiocarbon ages into calendar ages resulted in an update in the atmospheric decadal tree ring data set in 2004.4 30 Significance % 5 The U of Arizona and the U of Oxford show a difference of 104 years in their reported mean 14C BP years for the Shroud of Turin. The Supplemental Data on which this curve is based may be found at http://www.4 927 ± 32 1. The probability that random error alone is responsible for the scatter between the results reported by three labs is less the 5%.3 50 2.

0 12.0 12.D.0 12.0 13.org/IntCal04%20files/intcal04. Table 4 Calendar age BP age 14C BP age error yr 14C BP age 1380 1385 1390 1395 1400 1405 1410 1415 1420 1425 1430 1435 1440 1445 1450 570 565 560 555 550 545 540 535 530 525 520 515 510 505 500 646 628 604 583 572.0 12.0 13.0 477.0 543.0 513.0 12.14c.0 13.0 12. from: 1500 http://www.0 13.0 491.0 12.0 .0 459.0 12.0 438.0 560.0 526.0 12.9 to construct the terrestrial radiocarbon age calibration curve for the years 1400 A.0 415.0 12.0 11.0 502.radiocarbon.

0 389.1. No. Mean 1421 1. Total 3.0 350.0 12.0 *The error in the 14C BP age represents 1 SD Radiocarbon dating of four pages of the Voynich Manuscript has provided a 2SD range of 1404 1438.0 12. 39.0 12.) [ 242 = (sample )2 + 122 ] 4. for the calendar years 1404 and 1438 respectively.0 393.0 12. Vol. 2.0 13.0 11. I extrapolated the 14C BP year values of 565 and 473.0 381.0 11.0 352.0 372. Using Table 4.0 12.0 12.0 359. Radiocarbon.0 368.0 13.10 1455 1460 1465 1470 1475 1480 1485 1490 1495 1500 495 490 485 480 475 470 465 460 455 450 398. Total = (565 473)/4 (1SD) = [(sample )2 + (curve ) 2]1/2 (Stuiver and Becker 1993.35. Sample = 21 BP yrs. . p.0 374.

Mean 14C BP year = 514 +/. it is possible from the variance in their ages to calculate an estimate of the standard error of the mean.11 5. The raw data was converted to the atmospheric decadal tree ring data set using a random walk model.21 (1SD) If the individual 14C BP year values for the four pages of the Voynich Manuscript are available. This estimate would indicate whether an error multiplier factor should be applied to the 1SD error of 21.5 18. Table 5 Cal age BP age 14C BP age 14C BP age error N Laboratory 1389 1389 1389 1389 1399 1399 1399 1399 1409 561 561 561 561 551 551 551 551 541 637.9 23 18.8 18.7 574 599 588 564. Table 5 shows the raw data used to obtain Table 4.7 18.9 651 623 574.6 627.6 23 46.6 18.3 946 Seattle 947 Seattle 108 Belfast 2002 57 Waikato 948 Seattle 107 Belfast 2002 175 Belfast 1986 56 Waikato 949 Seattle .7 17.

3 20.5 415 458 377 14.7 18.6 26 17.6 20.7 17.7 18.7 457 388.5 511 499 468.3 17.8 25.3 539 512 536 499.2 18.1 21.5 18.7 106 Belfast 2002 55 Waikato 950 Seattle 105 Belfast 2002 174 Belfast 1986 54 Waikato 951 Seattle 104 Belfast 2002 53 Waikato 952 Seattle 103 Belfast 2002 173 Belfast 1986 52 Waikato 953 Seattle 51 Belfast 2002 954 Seattle 955 Seattle 101 Belfast 2002 172 Belfast 1986 50 Waikato .5 389.8 18.12 1409 1409 1419 1419 1419 1419 1429 1429 1429 1439 1439 1439 1439 1449 1449 1459 1459 1459 1459 1459 541 541 531 531 531 531 521 521 521 511 511 511 511 501 501 491 491 491 491 491 577 556 520.2 484 500 488 417.4 23.7 15.8 19.2 17.4 23 18.

This indicates the presence of a systematic error between data from Seattle and data from Belfast and Waikato.13 1469 1469 1469 1469 481 481 481 481 395 397 406 375 18. It should be remembered that 14C dating measures sample activity not sample age and that the conversion from 14C BP age to calendar age is dependent on the use of the atmospheric decadal tree calibration curve with its own set of limitations with respect to accuracy and precision. I am concerned by the large variation between the decadal 14C data from the three labs for the years from 1419 to 1459 in Table 5. The three labs made a large number of measurements on samples of Belfast Irish oak of known age and this data was used to produce the 2004 atmospheric decadal tree ring data set.3. Table 5 shows that the Seattle raw data age estimates tend to be younger (positive offset) than the other data sets (Reimer et. Radiocarbon. . the cal ages are given at the starting year of the cal year span. years critical to the dating of the Voynich Manuscript.7 21.7 956 Seattle 100 Belfast 2002 171 Belfast 1986 49 Waikato The 14C BP year measurements were averaged into 10 yr bins.8 13. p.7 17. Vol.46 No. 2004.10345). I have not been able to find any information indicating what the offset might be in 14C dating between U of Arizona and the 2004 atmospheric decadal tree ring data set.al.

1128) Stuiver and Polach.) ( Stuiver et.3. Vol. 3. of the 14C BP age should not be less than 40 years and additionally they do not accept responsibility for any financial loss as a result of an erroneous report. vol 32 No. Error is a normal part of science. Vol. p. P. I have come to my personal conclusion that the animal(s) whose skins were used to make the parchment for the Voynich Manuscript were probably killed some time during the first half of the 15th century. 2. 1029-1056) Bevington. p. 40 No.14c. no method is immune. 1992 http://www. References Donahue et. Having reviewed the available data and taking into account the variety of possible errors in 14C dating. results should be subjected to a critical examination and control experiments performed to determine the accuracy of the measurements. radiocarbon dating is the best method for determining the approximate age of small samples of organic material. 44.14 In conclusion. (1990 Radiocarbon. 3. . Radiocarbon. Finally it never hurts to review the literature. D. (Radiocarbon. 355-363.D. al. p 135-142. No. this should always be the initial step in any endeavor. Vol. 1998.(1977 Radiocarbon.radiocarbon. No.org/IntCal04%20files/intcal04. and Robinson.al.19.al. The Oxford Radiocarbon laboratory seems to believe that a realistic estimate of the S. until a better method becomes available.) Reimer et. p.R.

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