Scientific dating techniques have caused dramatic changes in our understanding of prehistory, for example by destroying the traditional framework that related Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe to the Near East, and by adding several million years to the estimated age of tool-making hominids in East Africa. In contrast, historical archaeologists incorporate material evidence into a framework of dates and cultures established from documentary sources; this is not without problems, however, and scientific dating is important in historical periods too. Dating techniques of all kinds are most valuable when applied to objects or samples from properly recorded contexts such as stratified deposits found on excavations. The study of artefacts still requires traditional methods of classification, and the use of typology for ordering them in a sequence which (ideally) can then be dated by historical or scientific means.
This chapter will look at the following aspects of archaeological dating:
· a brief review of the historical development of dating methods;
· the use of texts and inscriptions in historical periods;
· the arrangement of artefacts into relative sequences by means of typology;
· climatostratigraphy, which uses environmental studies to interpret and date deep ocean cores, ice cores, varves, and pollen;
· dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating;
· absolute methods based on radioactivity, notably radiocarbon, potassium-argon, fission track and uranium series, luminescence and ESR;
· derivative (relative) techniques, including bone diagenesis, obsidian hydration and archaeomagnetism.