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Dr Gerard Barrett, Research Fellow from Queen's, made the discovery through radiocarbon dating of mortar retrieved from the building.This is a new method to determine the age of a building which works by measuring how much of the radiocarbon that was trapped when the lime mortar originally set still remains, centuries, or even millennia later.Hiroyuki Kitagawa from Nagoya University and Johannes van der Plicht from the University of Groningen found the annual varves in the 1990s.They extracted a core (a column of sediment), did some radiocarbon testing, and published their analysis in in 1998.By providing a more precise record of this element in the atmosphere, the new data will make the process of carbon-dating more accurate, refining estimates by hundreds of years.The data will allow archaeologists to better gauge the age of their samples and estimate the timing of important events such as the extinction of Neanderthals or the spread of modern humans through Europe.

The shells of marine creatures provide one such record, but it represents the level of carbon-14 in the oceans, which does not exactly reflect the amount in the atmosphere.The new scientific research has been welcomed by the Derry Tower Heritage Group, whose members have been studying the history of the tower for the last five years and who had the foresight to have the mortar sample collected from the building during conservation work in 2013.Stephen Doherty, a member of the Heritage Group and teacher at Lumen Christi College said: "The new discovery is set to change our understanding of the early history of Derry.These changes are visible in the sediment as alternating dark and light bands known as “varves.” “It’s not unusual to have lakes with varves for short periods, but to have one that extends to the last ice age is unusual,” Bronk Ramsey said.The sediments are full of plant remains that, like tree rings, took their carbon-14 directly from the atmosphere, and can be accurately matched to a specific year using the varves as a mineral calendar.

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“The authors have done an excellent job in reconstructing the chronology of the Lake Sugietsu cores,” said A. Timothy Jull from the National Science Foundation’s Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory.

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