Dr Rachel Wood

D.Phil. University of Oxford; M.Sc. Archaeological Science, University of Oxford; B.Sc.(hons) Chemistry and Archaeology, University of Durham
ARC DECRA post-doctoral fellow

After completing a DPhil at the University of Oxford on the radiocarbon dating of late Neanderthals and early modern humans in Iberia I moved to the ANU, and until 2015 was responsible for the preparation of samples for radiocarbon dating in the ANU radiocarbon facility. In both Iberia and many locations in Australia and South East Asia, preservation of bone collagen (the fraction of bone targeted for radiocarbon) is exceptionally poor, hampering accurate dating of human and faunal material. My DECRA aims to examine diagenesis of tooth enamel to determine whether it might be possible to obtain accurate dates directly on skeletal material where collagen does not survive. Radiocarbon dates on enamel are often found to be inaccurate, and this project aims to find out why and investigate how to remove or avoid the contamination.

I also oversee the chemical pretreatment in the ANU radiocarbon laboratory, so if you have queries about dating a specific sample type or radiocarbon dating in general, please do not hesitate to email.



Popular science articles about radiocarbon dating

The radiocarbon dating method:


Dating the final Neanderthals:


Research interests

My research focuses on the production of accurate radiocarbon dates that can be used to build chronologies.

Radiocarbon pretreatment, particularly of bone and charcoal

Bone and charcoal are some of the most commonly dated samples, but particularly in the Pleistocene, contamination can be difficult to remove. In warm climates where preservation is limited, dating organic materials can be made even more challenging. A current project involves the dating of severely degraded bone with ninhydrin to target short fragments of collagen which do not normally survive the ultrafiltration protocol routinely used to date bone at the ANU.

The diagenesis and radiocarbon dating of tooth enamel

My DECRA will examine how archaeological tooth enamel degrades and how this affects the radiocarbon date. In much of Australia and South East Asia, preservation of collagen, the fraction of bone targeted for radiocarbon dating, does not survive. Hopefully this project will allow enamel to be used to directly date skeletal remains.

Palaeolithic archaeology, particularly the European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition

My DPhil focused on the chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition and final Neanderthals in Iberia, within a project lead by Prof Thomas Higham (University of Oxford) examining this period throughout western Europe. Nitrogen content was used to identify well preserved bones, and the ultrafiltration protocol was used to extract and purify collagen from butchered bone. We have built a reliable chronology for Iberia, demonstrating that two of the latest Neanderthal/Middle Palaeolithic assemblages are significantly earlier than previously thought, and in doing so cast doubt on the reliability of other very late Neanderthal assemblages in the region.

Australian Archaeology

I am currently attempting to radiocarbon date some of the earliest human occupations of south eastern Australia. Sites such as Cloggs Cave, Victoria (excavated by Josephine Flood) and Burrill Lake, NSW, were dated in the 1970s using conventional methods. At <30 ka cal BP, they appear significantly younger than the earliest sites elsewhere in Australia. I aim to test whether this is an artefact of the old-fashioned pretreatment methods employed. I have started working at Cloggs Cave (with Jo Flood), but this is a proving to be a challenge as bone and charcoal preservation is extremely poor, requiring new protocols to be introduced into the laboratory. I am also involved with a project lead by Nicola Stern who is surveying and excavating in the iconic landscape of Lake Mungo.


Papers and pdfs can be found at:



Please email if you cannot access a pdf.


Refereed journal articles

In Review

·      Wood, R., Duval, M., Nguyen, T.M.H., Nguyen, A.T., Bacon, A.M., Demeter, F., Duringer, P., Oxenham, M., Piper, P., . in review. The effect of grain size on carbonate contaminant removal from tooth enamel: towards and improved pretreatment for radiocarbon dating. Quaternary Geochronology


·      Wood, R., Bernaldo de Quiros, F., Maillo-Fernandez, J.-M., Tejero, J.-M., Neira, A., Higham, T. in press. El Castillo (Cantabria, northern Iberia) and the Transitional Aurignacian: Using radiocarbon dating to assess site taphonomy. Quaternary International

·      Wood, R.*,  Jacobs, Z.*, Vannieuwenhuyse, D.*, Balme, J., O'Connor, S., Whitau, R. in press. Towards an accurate and precise chronology for the colonization of Australia: The example of Riwi, Kimberley, Western Australia. PLOSone (*contributed equally)


·      Lahr, M, Rivera, F., Power, R.K., Mounier, A., Copsey, B., Crivellaro, F., Edung, J.E., Maillo Fernandez, J.M., Kiarie, C., Lawrence, J., Leakey, A., Mbua, E., Miller, H., Muigai, A., Mukhongo, D.M., Van Baelen, A., Wood, R., Schwenninger, J.-L., Grün, R., Achyuthan, H., Wilshaw, A., Foley, R.A., in press. Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature

·      Zilhão, J., Ajas, A., Badal, E., Burow, C., Kehl, M., López-Sáez, J.A., Pimenta, C., Preece, R.C., Sanchis, A., Sanz, M., Weniger, G.-C., White, D., Wood, R., Angelucci, D.E., Villaverde, V., Zapata, J. (2016) Cueva Antón: A multi-proxy MIS 3 to MIS 5a paleoenvironmental record for SE Iberia. Quaternary Science Reviews. 146, 251-273. 


·      Calo, A., Prasetyo, B., Bellowood, P. et al., 2015, Sembiran and Pacung on the north coast of Bali: a strategic crossroads for early trans-Asiatic excahnge. Antiquity. 344, 378-396.

·      Fano, M.A., Cubas, M., Wood, R., 2015. The first farmers in Cantabrian Spain: Contribution of numerical chronology to understand an historical process. Quaternary International. 364, 153-161.

·      Gillespie, R., Wood, R., Fallon, S., Stafford Jr., T.W., Southon, J., 2015. New 14C dates for Spring Creek and Mowbray Sawmp megafuna: XAD-2 processing. Archaeology in Oceania. 50(1), 43-48.

·      Grammer, G., Fallon, S.J., Izzo, C., Wood, R., Gillanders, B., 2015. Investigation bomb radiocarbon transport in the southern Pacific Ocean with otolith radiocarbon. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 424, 59-68.

·      Maloney T., Wood R., O’Connor S., Whitau R. (2015) Direct dating of resin hafted point technology in Australia. Australian Archaeology, 81, 35-43.

·      Proske, U., Wood, R., Fallon, S., Stevenson, J., 2015. Use of heavy liquid density separation to remove pyrite from sediment samples for radiocarbon dating. Quaternary Geochronology. 25, 66-71.

·      Pawlik, A., Piper, P., Wood, R., A Lim, K.K., Faylona, M.G.P.G., Mijares, A.S.B., Porr, M., 2015. Shell tool technology in Island Southeast Asia: an early Middle Holocene Tridacna adze from Ilin Island, Mindoro, Philippines. Antiquity. 344, 292-308.

·      Swift, J., Cupper, M.L., Greig, A., Westaway, M.C., Carter, C., Cantoro, C.M., Wood, R., Jacobesen, G.E., Bertuch, F., 2015. Skeletal arsenic of the pre-Columbian population of Caleta Vitor, northern Chile. Journal of Archaeological Science. 58, 31-45.

·      Wasef S., Wood R., El Merghani S., Ikram S., Curtis C., Holland B., Willerslev E., Millar C.D., Lambert D.M. (2015) Radiocarbon dating of Sacrd Ibis mummies from ancient Egypt. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 4, 355-361.

·      Wood, R., 2015. From convention to revolution: the past, present and future of radiocarbon dating. Journal of Archaeological Science. 56, 61-72.



·      Álvarez-Fernández, E., Carriol,, R.P., Jordá, J.F., Aura, J.E., Avezuela, B., Badal, E., Carrión, Y., García-Guinea, J., Maestro, A., Morales, J.V., Perez, G., Perez-Ripoll, M., Rodrigo, M.J., Scarff, J.E., Villalba M.P., Wood, R., 2014. Occurrence of whale barnacles in Nerja Cave (Málaga, Southern Spain), an indirect evidence of whale consumption by humans in the Upper Magdalenian. Quaternary International. 337, 163-169.

·      Douka K., Higham T.F.G., Wood R., Boscato P, Gambassini P, Karkanas T., Peresani M., Ronchitelli A., 2014. On the chronology of the Uluzzian. Journal of Human Evolution. 68, 1-13.

·      Higham, T.F.G., Douka, K., Wood, R., Bronk Ramsey, C., Brock, F., Basell, L., Camps, M., Arrizabalaga, A., Baena, J., Barroso-Ruíz, C., Bergman, C., Boitard, C., Boscato, P., Caparros, M., Conard, N.J., Draily, C., Froment, A., Galvan, B., Gambassini, P.,  Garcia-Moreno, A., Grimaldi, S., Haesaerts, P., Holt, B., Iriarte-Chiapusso, M-J., Jelinek, A., Jorda Pardo, J.F., Maíllo-Fernández, J-M., Marom, A., Maroto, J.,  Menendez,
M., Metz, L., Morin, E., Moroni, A., Negrino, F., Panagopoulou, E., Peresani, M., Pirson, S., de la Rasilla, M., Riel-Salvatore, J., Ronchitelli, A., Santamaria, D., Semal, P., Slimak, L., Soler, J., Soler, N., Villaluenga, A., Pinhasi, R. and Jacobi, R. 2014. The timing and spatio-temporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance. Nature. 512, 306 - 309.

·      Long, K., Stern, N., Williams, I.S., Kinsley, L., Wood, R., Sporcic, K., Kelly, T. Fallon, S., Kokkonen, H., Moffat, I., Grün, R., 2014. Fish otolith geochemistry, environmental conditions and human occupation at Lake Mungo, Australia, Quaternary Science Reviews. 88, 82-95.

·      O’Connor, S., Maloney, T., Vanniuewenhuyse, D., Balme, J., Wood, R., 2014. Occupation at Carpenter’s Gap 3, Windjana Gorge, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australian Archaeology. 78, 10-23.

·      Wood, R.E., Arrizabalaga, A., Camps, M., Fallon, S., Iriarte-Chiapusso, M.-J., Jones, R., Maroto, J., de la Rasilla, M., Santamaría, D., Soler, J., Soler, N., Villaluenga, A., Higham, T.F.G., 2014. The chronology of the earliest Upper Palaeolithic in Northern Iberia: New insights from L'Arbreda, Labeko Koba and La Viña. Journal of Human Evolution. 69(1), 91 - 109.

·      Wright, D., Nejman, L., d’Errico, F., Králík, M., Wood, R., Ivanov, M., Hladilová, S., 2014. An Early Upper Palaeolithic decorated bone tubular rod from Pod Hradem Cave, Czech Republic. Antiquity. 88(339), 30-46.



·      Higham, T., Wood, R., Moreau, L., Ramsey, C.B., 2013. Comments on 'Human-climate interaction during the early Upper Palaeolithic: Testing the hypothesis of an adaptive shift between the Proto-Aurignacian and the Early Aurignaican' by Banks et al. Journal of Human Evolution, 65, 806-809.

·      Kehl, M., Burrow, C., Hilgers, A., Navazo, M., Pastoors, A., Weninger, G.-C., Wood, R., Jorda Pardo, J.,F., 2013. Late Neanderthals at Jarama VI (central Iberia)? Quaternary Research, 80(2), 218-234.

·      Storm, P., Wood, R., Stringer, C., Bartsiokas, A., de Vos, J., Aubert, M., Kinsley, L., Grun, R. (2013) U-series and radiocarbon analyses of human and faunal remains from Wajak, Journal of Human Evolution. 64, 356-365

·      Wood, R.E., Barroso-Ruiz, C., Caparros, M., Jorda. J.F., Galvan Santos, B., Higham, T.F.G., 2013a. Radiocarbon dating casts doubt on the late chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in southern Iberia, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110 (8), 2781-2786.

·      Wood, R.E., Higham T.F.G., Torres, T, Tisnerat-Laborde, N., Valladas, H., Ortiz, J.E., Lalueza-Fox, C., Sanchez-Moral, S., Canaveras, J.C., Rosas, A., Santamaria, D., de la Rasilla, M., 2013b. A new date for the Neanderthals from El Sidrón Cave (Asturias, Northern Spain). Archaeometry. 55(1), 148-158.

·      Wood, R.E., Higham, T.F.G., Buzilhova, A., Suvorov, A., Heinemeier, J., Olsen, J., 2013c. Freshwater radiocarbon reservoir effects at the burial ground of Minino, Northwest Russia. Radiocarbon, 55(1), 163-177.



·      Brock, F., Wood, R., Higham, T.F.G., Ditchfield, P., Bayliss, A., Bronk Ramsey, C., 2012. The reliability of nitrogen content (%N) as an indicator of collagen preservation suitable for radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon, 54(3-4), 879-886.

·      Higham, T., Basell, L., Jacobi, L., Wood, R., Bronk Ramsey, C., Conard, N.J., 2012. Testing models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geisenklosterle. Journal of Human Evolution, 62(6), 664-676.

·      Maroto, J., Vaquero, M., Arrizabalaga, A., Baena, J, Baquedano, E., Jordá, J., Julià, R, Montes, R., van der Plicht, J., Rasines, P., Wood, R., 2012. Current issues in late Middle Palaeolithic chronology: New assessments from Northern Iberia, Quaternary International, 247, 15-25.

·      Wood R.E.,  Douka, K., Boscato, P., Haesaerts, P. Sinitsyn, A., Higham, T.F.G., 2012. Testing the ABOX-SC method: Dating known-age charcoals associated with the Campanian Ignimbrite. Quaternary Geochronology, 9, 16-26.



·      Higham, T., Brock, F., Bronk Ramsey, C., Davies, W., Wood, R., Basell, L., 2011. Chronology of the site of Grotte du Renne, Arcy-sur-Cure, France: implications for Neanderthal symbolic behaviour. Before Farming, 2011/2 article 1.

·      Higham, T., Brock, F., Bronk Ramsey, C., Davies, W., Wood, R., Basell, L., 2011. Chronology of the site of Grotte du Renne, Arcy-sur-Cure, FranceA response to Zilhão et al. (this issue). Before Farming, 2011/3 article 4.



·      Ascough, P.L., Bird, M.I., Meredith, W., Wood, R.E., Snape, C.E., Brock, F., Higham, T.F.G., Large, D., Apperley, D., 2010. Hydropyrolysis: Implications for radiocarbon pre-treatment and characterization of Black Carbon, Radiocarbon, 52, 600-611.

·      Bird, M.I., Charville-Mort, P.D.J., Ascough, P.L., Wood, R., Higham, T. Apperley, D., 2010. Assessment of oxygen plasma ashing as a pre-treatment for radiocarbon dating, Quaternary Geochronology, 5, 435-442.

·      Higham, T.F.G, Jacobi, R.M, Julien, M., David, F., Basell, L.S., Wood, R.E., Davies, W. Bronk Ramsey, C., 2010. The evolution of Neanderthal symbolic behaviour: new evidence from the Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure, France, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(47), 20234-20239.

·      Higham, T., Warren, R., Belinskij, A., Härke, H., Wood, R., 2010. Radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis and diet-derived offsets in 14C ages from the Klin Yar site, Russian north Caucasus, Radiocarbon, 52, 653-670.

·      Zilhão, J., Angelucci, D.E., Badal-García, E., d’Errico, F., Daniel, F., Dayet, L., Douka, K.,  Higham, T.F.G., Martínez-Sánchez, M.J., Montes-Bernárdez, R., Murcia-Mascarós, S., Pérez-Sirvent,  C., Roldán-García, C., Vanhaeren, M., Villaverde, V., Wood, R., Zapata, J., 2010. Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914088107.

·      Wood, R.E., Bronk Ramsey, C., Higham, T.F.G., 2010. Refining the background correction for radiocarbon dating of bone collagen with the ultrafiltration protocol at ORAU, Radiocarbon, 52, 1336-1350.


·      Higham, T.F.G., Brock, F., Peresani, M., Broglio, A., Wood, R., Douka, K., 2009. Problems with radiocarbon dating the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in Italy, Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 1257-1267.


Scholarly book chapters

·      Jorda Pardo, J.F., Menendez Fernández, M., Carral Gonzalez, P.C., Quesada Lopez, J.M., Wood, R., 2013. Geoarchaeology and chronostratigraphy of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition at the cave of La Güelga (Cangas de Onís, Asturias, Spain). In Pastoors, A., Auffermann B. (Eds.) Pleistocene Foragers on the Iberian Peninsula: Their culture and environment. Festschrift in honour of Gerd-Christian Weninger for his sixtieth birthday. Wissenschaftliche Schriften des Neanderthal Museums, 7, Mettmann, 85 - 106.

·      Menéndez, M., Quesada, J.M., Jordá, J.F., Carral, P., Trancho, G.J., García, E., Ålvarez, D., Wood, R., 2009. Excavaciones Arqueológicas en la Cueva de la Güelga (Cangas de Onís), Excavaciones Arqueológicas en Asturias 2003-2006, 6,  209-221.



·      Nejman, L., Wright, D., Lisá, L., Doláková, N., Horáček, I., Novák, J., Wood, R., Pacher, M., Sázelová, S., Holub, M., Přichystal, A., Nývltová Fišáková, M., Bajer, A., 2013. Hominids and palaeoenvironments in the Moravian Karst during Marine Isotope Stage 3: new excavations in Pod Hradem Cave, Czech Republic, Antiquity Project Gallery, 87(337).

·      Wood, R.E., Barroso-Ruiz, C., Caparros, M., Jorda. J.F., Galvan Santos, B., Higham, T.F.G., 2013. Reply to de la Penya: Radiocarbon dating and the paleoenvironmental record of Carihuela, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110(23), E2087.

·      Wood, R., 2013. Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work? The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-radiocarbon-dating-and-how-does-it-work-9690.

·      Wood, R., 2014. Early humans lived with Neanderthal neighbours. The Conversationhttps://theconversation.com/early-humans-lived-with-neanderthal-neighbou....



BIAN 3010/6510: Stable isotope analysis and dating in palaeoanthropology and archaeology

Please contact me if you are interested in an honours or masters project in radiocarbon dating.