Apparently, this is an acronym for reckoning time period instead of using the usual BC-AD or BCE-CE.

The journal I am referring to is archeo sciences. Here's a snippet of the article:


I've looked up "Mauryan Empire" and it appears to be dated at the same time in BCE, making BPE=BCE. But what does the acronym stand for? And why do some journals use this instead of a more familiar acronym?

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    – Boaz
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 9:16
  • No, the wiki states, "standard practice is to use 1 January 1950 as the commencement date [for BP]". This is not what I was looking for. Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 10:03
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    How many instances of this usage have you encountered? This seems like a mixup between BP and BCE.
    – Boaz
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 10:13
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    BC and AD are not politically correct as they refer to Christianiy. Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 14:56
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    @blacksmith37 : but the entire calendar system, including the numbering of the year is also derived from Christianity. So telling that we are in 2019 is also politically incorrect. Hey, Christians breath air, so breathing should be politically incorrect too.
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


"BPE" stands for "Before Present Era", and is equivalent to the more familiar BP (Before Present = 1950). It is a new "standard" abbreviation that I have seen appearing over the last decade or so (more commonly in publications from the USA).

It is worth noting that the original BP standard was established solely for the reporting of radiocarbon dates. Developments in the calibration of those dates have meant that the BP system was not used as widely as the originators had hoped (and has been used even less as the "Present" (1 January 1950) in "Before Present" increasingly became the past!).

You will sometimes find a definition for BPE provided in some glossaries of terms for recent courses, for example this 2005 course on The Archeology of Joshua Tree National Park.

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    I don't think you are right about equating BP and BPE - certainly not in all usages and occurrences. I have seen BPE used in contexts that clearly seemed to equate it with BCE. Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 17:35
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    Interesting. Even here in the US I'm much more familiar with CE and BCE. I guessed that BPE meant the same as BCE, but it was a guess.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 17:41
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    @PieterGeerkens Yes. That is part of the problem. As you can see from the link to the course, it is supposed to be 'Before Present Era' (i.e. updating 'BP', since 1 January 1950 is clearly not "the present"), but it is often misused in place of BCE. IMO, while the system of BP was introduced with the best intentions, technological developments overtook it. BPE is trying to preserve a system that should have been allowed to fall into obscurity, and in practice is only leading to confusion (as with the article cited by the OP!). Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 17:43
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    @T.E.D. In any sane world, in any English-language publication, the present era must always the same era as anno domini. Likewise the year of record for any sane meaning of before present must be some year post 1900. Unfortunately the world hasn't been sane by any meaningful sense of the word for going on three decades now. As for equating them - that's straight our of Warner Brothers. Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 17:50
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    @LаngLаngС The move from BC/AD to BCE/CE was certainly politically motivated, but it did seek to preserve some consistency with earlier published material. Referring to 1 January 1950 as "the present" was always going to become more ridiculous as time passed, but it was an attempt to distinguish radiocarbon dates (which are always a range, and not a single date) from other types of date. As I said, it was overtaken by technology, and IMO should probably have been left to fall into obscurity. And yes, in the cited passage, the OP seems to equate BPE with BCE, which would be incorrect. Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 19:06

BPE means Before Present Era. Now we know the words behind the acronym, we still don't know the meaning of those words.

21.12 dates

non-religious alternatives

to BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini – year of our Lord)
are BCE (before common era) and CE (common era),
and also BPE (before present era) and PE (present era).
However these acronyms are not, as yet, very common.


–– Adrian Wallwork: "English for Academic Research: Grammar, Usage and Style", Springer: New York, Heidelberg, 2015.

As used in the question's quote apparently. Here is another usage of the acronym, but with one possible definition that's different:

Before the Present Era (BPE): a dating system based on the use of radiocarbon-dating, which uses January 1, 1950, as its baseline. Therefore, 10,000 years BPE equals 10,000 years before New Year’s Day, 1950.

–– Canadian History: Pre-Confederation

That is


We see that originally bp was the archaeological acronym to refer to radiocarbon dating – which is no longer useful for objects created after we engaged in nuclear follies. One addition might therefore be useful though: the E in BPE seems to appear mostly because '1950' is no longer really 'present history'? But that is quite unfortunate, as 'era' in a calendar sense is also well established in one reading as the period commonly abbreviated AD.

So we see in the quoted article that BPE means Before Present Era as well. This is to avoid the association with Christianity. But here it means exactly the same thing. Different to BP Before Present, as that 'Present' is everything after when we started littering the atmosphere with radionuclide fallout.

As it did become clear to OP, from the context, like

Gold in early Southeast Asia
Gold is fairly widely, though irregularly, distributed throughout Southeast Asia in igneous and metamorphic hard rock deposits and in sedimentary placer deposits. The region was known to the Indian merchants of the 1st millennium BPE… Gold first appears in the archaeological record in 400 BPE, at about the same time as iron, semiprecious stone polishing and glass working, suggesting that the techniques of gold extraction and working were quite plausibly introduced to Southeast Asia via Indian and/or Chinese merchants seeking gold ores.

it then becomes clear to all that for that article the usage seems to be:


As there is a difference of 1950 years to observe: That is again unfortunate as this BPE is not a very well established acronym and it lends itself to confusion. This dictionary entry shows

BPE Spanish translation: a.C. GLOSSARY ENTRY English term or phrase: BPE Spanish translation: a.C. Entered by: Andrés Martínez

English to Spanish translations
Art/Literary - History / Imperio Romano
English term or phrase: BPE
Roman general Gaius Julius Caesar described the wild aurochs living in the forests of Germany in 65 BPE.

a.C. Explanation: (b.p.e. = before present era) = literalmente "antes de nuestra era". En español suele indicarse como a.C., antes de Cristo.


That this not just a small internet mixup is evidenced in a research article, which from an interdisciplinary perspective uses BPE & bp:

Here and following, the distinction BPE/PE is substituted for the more prevalent usage of BC/AD. For dates when the BPE/PE distinction is irrelevant, "before the present," or "bp," is used.
–– Joseph C. Miller: "Review: History and Archaeology in Africa", The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 291- 303.

Speaking descriptively, we know how the acronym is spelled out for sure. But we can't be sure what exactly an author might mean with the spelled out variant in an isolated sentence. An unsettled tradition of 'common use' might be as well the case as a simple mixup between BPE and BCE.

As rule of thumb: when speaking about history it is probably BPE=BCE, for whatever reason they changed an established acronym yet again;
when speaking about pre-history, as related to carbon-dating it is probably BPE=bp, for whatever reason they bloated another letter into that acronym. A weak rule of thumb, with significant areas of overlap, and strong opinions labelling the other side as incorrect. Whether BPE for archaeology itself is the correct acronym, I advise readers to ask for that in the Journal "Radiocarbon, An International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research" which to this very day lists zero hits for BPE at all.

That BP as an acronym has its own set of problems seems evident. However researchers have recently focused on redefinitions different from adding letters, concentrating on meaning instead:

An official definition of the term could then be something similar to the following:

BP – A time scale which places past events in terms of “conventional radiocarbon years before AD 1950.” 1950 was chosen as the year at which to begin the BP time scale to commemorate the first publication of radiocarbon dates in December 1949. Originally, BP stood for “Before Present,” but now the symbol BP itself signifies the time scale.

The proposed meaning alteration basically codifies the way BP has come to be used in practice, with the main change being that authors would be freed from the practice of saying that “the present” is defined as 1950. It is time to institute Radiocarbon’s practice of defining BP as “conventional radiocarbon years before AD 1950” in both scientific and popular references to the time scale, finally bringing an end to “the age where the present appeared to become stuck in 1950.”
–– Jesse R Townsley: "BP: TIME FOR A CHANGE", Radiocarbon, Vol 59, Nr 1, 2017, p 177–178

Speaking proscriptively, it seems good advice to look for contextual clues when reading; and in writing to either avoid the acronym in favour of better established ones or providing a glossary explaining the intended reading for it. For either usage scenario BPE is bound to confuse readers.

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