Summary findings of the fourth international radiocarbon intercomparison (FIRI) (1998-2001)

Elisabetta Boaretto, Charlotte Bryant, Israel Carmi, Gordon Cook, Steinar Gulliksen, Doug Harkness, Jan Heinemeier, John McClure, Edward McGee, Philip Naysmith, Goran Possnert, Marian Scott, Hans Van Der Plicht, Mark Van Strydonck

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36 Scopus citations


Interlaboratory comparisons have been widely used in applied radiocarbon science. These are an important part of ongoing quality assurance (QA) programmes, which are vital to the appropriate interpretation of the evidence provided by the 14C record in Quaternary applications (including climate change and environmental reconstruction). International comparisons of laboratory performance are an essential component of the quality assurance process in radiocarbon dating. If the user community is to have confidence in radiocarbon results, it needs to be assured that laboratories world wide are producing measurements that are reliable and in accordance with 'good practice'. The findings from the most recent (completed in 2001) and extensive (more than 90 participating laboratories) radiocarbon intercomparison (FIRI) are reported here. This study was designed (i) to assess comparability, or otherwise, of the results from different laboratories and (ii) to quantify the extent and possible causes of any interlaboratory variation. The results demonstrate that there are no significant differences amongst the main measurement techniques (gas proportional counting, liquid scintillation counting and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS)) but there is evidence of small laboratory offsets relative to known age samples for some laboratories. There is also evidence in some cases of underestimation of measurement precision. Approximately 10% of all results were classified as extreme (outliners) and these results were generated by 14% of the laboratories. Overall, the evidence supports the fact that radiocarbon laboratories are generally accurate and precise but that, notwithstanding internal QA procedures, some problems still occur, which can best be detected by participation in independent intercomparisons such as FIRI, where the results allow individual laboratories to assess their performance and to take remedial measures where necessary. The results from FIRI are significant in that they show a broad measure of agreement between measurements made in different laboratories on a wide range of materials and they also demonstrate no statistically significant difference between measurements made by radiometric or AMS techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-637
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Laboratory intercomparison
  • Outlier
  • Quality assurance
  • Radiocarbon dating


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