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The planet's wandering magnetic poles

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Author Topic: The planet's wandering magnetic poles  (Read 222 times)
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« on: December 27, 2007, 08:20:37 pm »

Information unearthed during a construction project in downtown Winchester, about 90 km southwest of London, could help settle the debate, says Ben Ford of Oxford (England) Archaeology and director of excavation at the site. During a 5-month investigation at the 2,000-square-meter construction site, he and his colleagues uncovered the remnants of many ancient structures, including some blacksmith shops. The researchers drilled samples from each of 17 hearths, estimated their ages using paleomagnetic dating techniques, and then carbon-dated organic material such as ash, burned seeds, and small sticks—presumably the remnants of the hearths' last fires—to verify the results.

Most of the ancient structures were found in an area measuring 60 m long and 12 m wide, a hint that the densely packed buildings sat along an established road, says Ford. The full range of estimated ages of the Winchester hearths runs from the 9th century to the 14th. Preliminary results for two of the samples suggest that those structures were last used in the 840s and the 850s—decades that clearly predate the earthworks commissioned by King Alfred, Ford notes.

"These [findings] provide detail in the historical record for an area that isn't well known," says Mark Hounslow, a geographer at Lancaster (England) University, who has worked at the Winchester site.

Finding so many hearths of different ages at one site will be a boon for paleomagnetists, says Ford. Results of the team's paleomagnetic analyses can be added to comprehensive databases like Batt's, he notes. And, the new findings may allow scientists to fine-tune the patterns of magnetic pole movement inferred from those data.

By using paleomagnetic data, researchers no longer have to infer the ages of strata from the presence of easily dated objects such as coins or distinct forms of pottery, says Ford. "Now," he notes, "we can write history from archaeological data."


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