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Archaeomagnetism: Magnetic Moments in the Past

The Magnetic Moments in the Past project aims to promote archaeomagnetic dating for routine use within UK archaeology.

The project was launched by the University of Bradford and English Heritage in April 2009, and is co-ordinated by Dr Cathy Batt (University of Bradford).

The work was funded by the AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship (project reference AH/G01020X/1).

About the project

Understanding the age of a given site is central to all archaeological studies. Archaeomagnetic dating is a valuable technique as it samples materials such as fired clay and stone, found frequently on archaeological sites in structures such as kilns, hearths, ovens and furnaces. Archaeomagnetism provides a date of when the material was last heated, which usually relates to the last time the structure was used. The date is therefore archaeologically significant and can be related to a specific human activity.

A project was launched by the University of Bradford and English Heritage to develop archaeomagentic dating for application in UK archaeology, funded as part of the AHRC's Knowledge Transfer Fellowship scheme. The aim of the project was to demonstrate and communicate the potential of archaeomagnetism for routine use within the UK, and to provide a mechanism for the continued development of the method. This was achieved by providing clear information about the technique, and by addressing the questions frequently asked by archaeologists. A database was also produced that contained all of the archaeomagnetic studies carried out in the UK since the 1950s, so that the users can see how the technique has been applied in the past to different situations.

The database of UK archaeomagnetic studies

The main aim of the 'Magnetic Moments in the Past' project is to demonstrate and communicate the potential of archaeomagnetic dating for routine use in UK archaeology. A major part of this goal has been achieved by the production of a definitive database of archaeomagnetic studies that have been carried out in the UK since the 1950s. The database was constructed with both archaeologists and archaeomagnetists in mind, and was designed following the guidance and suggestions from both groups. It was noted that archaeologists would like to find information on archaeomagnetic studies carried out:

  • in a specific region
  • from a particular period of time
  • on a particular type of feature

Archaeologists are also interested in the precision available for an archaeomagnetic date from a specific period of time. The calibrated age ranges were therefore included in the database, as well as an indication of which calibration curve was used to produce the date. The history and relative merits of the secular variation curves used in archaeomagnetic dating have been summarised in the 'Secular variation and calibration' section.

The database was designed in a way that would allow these questions to be answered, filtering the data so that only the studies of interest would be presented. The database was constructed using Microsoft Access 2007, but earlier formats of Access as well as alternative formats have also been provided. A form has been designed within the database specifically for those with an interest in archaeology. The form is divided into two areas: the criteria used to filter the data and the results.

The database consists of over 760 archaeomagnetic dates from over 375 sites, collected from all areas of the UK (figures correct up to February 2010). A more detailed user guide for the database can be downloaded from the 'Database of UK archaeomagnetic studies' section.

The map of archaeomagnetic studies

A location map has been produced for the archaeomagnetic studies so that the concentration of work carried out in a particular region can be easily assessed.

This will allow users to find other sites that have utilised archaeomagnetic dating in a specific area, but also highlight the areas that need more work to be carried out.

The location of sites is important in the construction of the calibration curves, as the Earth's magnetic field is complex, varying through time, but also from place to place.

In order to construct objective and robust records of how the Earth's magnetic field have changed for the UK, archaeomagnetists need to assess both of these factors.

Promoting current archaeomagnetic projects

In order for the archaeomagnetic discipline to develop, new studies need to be carried out across the country.

Information relating to current archaeomagnetic projects will be presented in the 'Current archaeomagnetic projects' section of the website.

This will connect archaeologists with archaeomagnetists in a way that will benefit both communities.

Project managers

Contact us

Please email comments and questions to

Or you can contact the project managers:

Cathy Batt
Paul Linford

Useful links

Archaeomagnetism and Palaeomagnetism

Other useful links


Several people have contributed to this project, and their help was appreciated: Don Tarling, Mark Noel, Mark Hounslow, John Shaw, Mimi Hill, Andy Hammon, Tim Howard, John Newman, Andy Howard, Beverley Ballin Smith, Steve Dockrill, Julie Bond, Sarah-Jane Clelland, Irene Zananiri, Alan Powell, Dave Greenwood, Amanda Forster, Jo McKenzie, Suzy Blake, Tom Sparrow, Clare Jewess and Daniel Bashford.