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CitationMarlowe, G. (1980). W. F. Libby and the archaeologists, 1946-1948. Radiocarbon, 22(3), 1005-1014.
PublisherAmerican Journal of Science
DescriptionFrom the 10th International Radiocarbon Conference held in Bern, Switzerland and Heidelberg, Germany, August 19-26, 1979.
AbstractArchaeologists began to participate in cross-disciplinary endeavors in the 1930's, albeit on a very limited basis. The passage of time found members of that discipline unprepared for collaboration with physical scientists when W F Libby announced the development of the radiocarbon dating method. Libby proposed to apply to archeologic and geologic samples techniques based on ideas that were completely foreign to archeology.... The initial reactions of archeologists were sometimes amusing but more often significant, for they led to the foundation and emergence of the radiocarbon chronology that has so profoundly affected our understanding of prehistory (Johnson, 1967, p 165). To date, our historical knowledge about the nature, function, and impact of the early (1946-1948) relations between Libby and American archaeologists has come to us in the form of published anecdotes, many of which contain inaccurate information. The author's access to W F Libby's private 14C correspondence, combined with data obtained from interviews with some of the principal participants throughout this period, offers many new or different insights into the nascent years of radiocarbon dating. When, and under what unexpected cricumstances, did Libby first encounter representatives of the achaeologic community? What strategies were employed to facilitate diffusion of knowledge about 14C dating across disciplinary boundaries? How did archaeologists respond to the introduction or "intrusion" into their field of Libby's radioactive age-measurement tool?