We introduce a quantitative approach to paleoearthquake dating and apply it to paleoseismic data from the Wrightwood and Pallett Creek sites on the southern San Andreas fault. We illustrate how stratigraphic ordering, sedimentological, and historical data can be used quantitatively in the process of estimating earthquake ages. Calibrated radiocarbon age distributions are used directly from layer dating through recurrence intervals and recurrence probability estimation. The method does not eliminate subjective judgements in event dating, but it does provide a means of systematically and objectively approaching the dating process. Date distributions for the most recent 14 events at Wrightwood are based on sample and contextual evidence in Fumal et al. (2002) and site context and slip history in Weldon et al. (2002). Pallett Creek event and dating descriptions are from published sources. For the five most recent events at Wrightwood, our results are consistent with previously published estimates, with generally comparable or narrower uncertainties. For Pallett Creek, our earthquake date estimates generally overlap with previous results but typically have broader uncertainties. Some event date estimates are very sensitive to details of data interpretation. The historical earthquake in 1857 ruptured the ground at both sites but is not constrained by radiocarbon data. Radiocarbon ages, peat accumulation rates, and historical constraints at Pallett Creek for event X yield a date estimate in the earliest 1800s and preclude a date in the late 1600s. This event is almost certainly the historical 1812 earthquake, as previously concluded by Sieh et al. (1989). This earthquake also produced ground deformation at Wrightwood.
All events at Pallett Creek, except for event T, about A.D. 1360, and possibly event I, about A.D. 960, have corresponding events at Wrightwood with some overlap in age ranges. Event T falls during a period of low sedimentation at Wrightwood when conditions were not favorable for recording earthquake evidence. Previously proposed correlations of Pallett Creek X with Wrightwood W3 in the 1690s and Pallett Creek event V with W5 around 1480 (Fumal et al., 1993) appear unlikely after our dating reevaluation. Apparent internal inconsistencies among event, layer, and dating relationships around events R and V identify them as candidates for further investigation at the site. Conditional probabilities of earthquake recurrence were estimated using Poisson, lognormal, and empirical models. The presence of 12 or 13 events at Wrightwood during the same interval that 10 events are reported at Pallett Creek is reflected in mean recurrence intervals of 105 and 135 years, respectively. Average Poisson model 30-year conditional probabilities are about 20% at Pallett Creek and 25% at Wrightwood. The lognormal model conditional probabilities are somewhat higher, about 25% for Pallett Creek and 34% for Wrightwood. Lognormal variance σln estimates of 0.76 and 0.70, respectively, imply only weak time predictability. Conditional probabilities of 29% and 46%, respectively, were estimated for an empirical distribution derived from the data alone. Conditional probability uncertainties are dominated by the brevity of the event series; dating uncertainty contributes only secondarily. Wrightwood and Pallett Creek event chronologies both suggest variations in recurrence interval with time, hinting that some form of recurrence rate modulation may be at work, but formal testing shows that neither series is more ordered than might be produced by a Poisson process.