Professor Ann Wintle is a geophysicist and a pioneer in the field of luminescence dating – a technique that has revolutionized our ability to find out how old things are, or when things – like past climate change – happened.
Anything younger than 1 million years which contains quartz or feldspar is potentially datable – from pottery and bricks (where the time of firing can be dated), to sands lain down by glaciers, or in ancient dunes and beaches, or caught up in sediments in caves (where the date that the sediment last saw sunlight – i.e. was buried – is calculated).
Luminescence dating harnesses our understanding of how electrons behave when exposed to radiation, and applies this to archaeological and geological questions. It’s a technique that can help us answer questions relevant to human history and our changing climate, and Ann Wintle has been at the forefront of its development since her 1974 PhD research into thermoluminescence dating at the newly opened Research Laboratory in Archaeology and the History of Art, Oxford University.
Ann Wintle studied Physics at the University of Sussex, but her first love was archaeology. An inspirational physics teacher shifted her academic focus, but she never lost her archeological leanings, volunteering at a local excavation during her undergraduate days. She was finally able to combine her interest in applied physics and her love of archaeology in her undergraduate dissertation on the application of science to archaeological problems. This led directly to her PhD research at Oxford, and onwards to a career marked by achievement, awards and the setting up of the NERC luminescence dating facility at Aberystwyth. Wintle has helped to improve both the precision of OSL and the maximum age the technique is able to reliably date (well beyond the limits of carbon dating).