Relative dating archeology

It is increasingly difficult for prehistorians working in the twenty-first century to conceptualise the problems experienced by their predecessors, and approaches to interpretation before the 1960s are consistently criticised.

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These techniques both place assemblages of artefacts into relative order.

Petrie used sequence dating to work back from the earliest historical phases of Egypt into pre-dynastic Neolithic times, using groups of contemporary artefacts deposited together at a single time in graves.

Seriation was developed in the USA to place in order finds from strata or other kinds of assemblages such as potsherds collected from the surface of sites.

Prehistorians sometimes overestimate the accuracy and detail of frameworks based on historical evidence; in practice, early written sources may provide little more information than a scatter of radiocarbon dates.

The extent of documentation varied considerably in 'historical' cultures and the information that survives is determined by a variety of factors.

If a context containing burnt debris and broken artefacts is excavated on a site from a historical period, it is tempting to search the local historical framework for references to warfare or a disaster in the region, and to date the excavated context accordingly.

The transformation of archaeological dating that began around 1950 continues, but archaeologists may overlook the revolution in scientific dating that had already taken place in geology during the first half of the twentieth century; from this wider perspective, the emergence of radiocarbon dating may seem slightly less dramatic Accurate knowledge of the age of the Earth was of little direct help to archaeologists, but it emphasised the potential of scientific dating techniques.

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed similar progress that began with the dating of recent geological periods in which early hominids lived, and ended with the introduction of radiocarbon dating.

While some geologists concentrated on the age of the Earth, others studied distinctive surface traces left behind by changes in the extent of polar ice during the most recent (Quaternary) geological period.

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