Usually, a set of related artifacts is used to determine the age of a layer. Seriation simply means ordering.
Because items such as paper documents and cotton garments are produced from plants, they can be dated using radiocarbon dating. It is not affected by external factors such as temperature , pressure , chemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field. This page was last edited on 16 January , at Alternatively, if several different minerals can be dated from the same sample and are assumed to be formed by the same event and were in equilibrium with the reservoir when they formed, they should form an isochron. Similarly, pollen grains released by seed-bearing plants became fossilized in rock layers.
This technique was developed by the inventor of modern archaeology, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Seriation is based on the assumption that cultural characteristics change over time. For example, consider how automobiles have changed in the last 50 years a relatively short time in archaeology. Automobile manufacturers frequently introduce new styles about every year, so archaeologists thousands of years from now will have no difficulty identifying the precise date of a layer if the layer contains automobile parts.
Cultural characteristics tend to show a particular pattern over time. The characteristic is introduced into the culture for example, using a certain type of projectile point for hunting or wearing low-riding jeans , becomes progressively more popular, then gradually wanes in popularity. The method of seriation uses this distinctive pattern to arrange archaeological materials into a sequence. However, seriation only works when variations in a cultural characteristic are due to rapid and significant change over time. It also works best when a characteristic is widely shared among many different members of a group.
Even then, it can only be applied to a small geographic area, because there is also geographic variation in cultural characteristics. For example, 50 years ago American automobiles changed every year while the Volkswagen Beetle hardly changed at all from year to year.
Cross dating is also based on stratigraphy. It uses the principle that different archaeological sites will show a similar collection of artifacts in layers of the same age. Sir Flinders Petrie used this method to establish the time sequence of artifacts in Egyptian cemeteries by identifying which burials contained Greek pottery vessels. These same Greek pottery styles could be associated with monuments in Greece whose construction dates were fairly well known. Since absolute dating techniques have become common, the use of cross dating has decreased significantly.
Pollen grains also appear in archaeological layers. They are abundant and they survive very well in archaeological contexts. As climates change over time, the plants that grow in a region change as well. People who examine pollen grains the study of which is known as pollen analysis can usually determine the genus , and often the exact species producing a certain pollen type.
Archaeologists can then use this information to determine the relative ages of some sites and layers within sites. However, climates do not change rapidly, so this type of analysis is best for archaeological sites dating back to the last ice age. Absolute dating methods produce an actual date, usually accurate to within a few years.
This date is established independent of stratigraphy and chronology. If a date for a certain layer in an excavation can be established using an absolute dating method, other artifacts in the same layer can safely be assigned the same age.
Dendrochronology, also known as tree-ring dating, is the earliest form of absolute dating. This method was first developed by the American astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglas at the University of Arizona in the early s. Douglas was trying to develop a correlation between climate variations and sunspot activity , but archaeologists quickly recognized its usefulness as a dating tool. The technique was first applied in the American Southwest and later extended to other parts of the world.
Tree-ring dating is relatively simple. Trees add a new layer of cambium the layer right under the bark every year. The thickness of the layer depends on local weather and climate. In years with plenty of rain, the layer will be thick and healthy. Over the lifetime of the tree, these rings accumulate, and the rings form a record of regional variation in climate that may extend back hundreds of years. Since all of the trees in a region experience the same climate variations, they will have similar growth patterns and similar tree ring patterns.
One tree usually does not cover a period sufficiently long to be archaeologically useful.
However, patterns of tree ring growth have been built up by "overlapping" ring sequences from different trees so that the tree ring record extends back several thousand years in many parts of the world. The process starts with examination of the growth ring patterns of samples from living trees. Then older trees are added to the sequence by overlapping the inner rings of a younger sample with the outer rings of an older sample. Older trees are recovered from old buildings, archaeological sites, peat bogs, and swamps. Eventually, a regional master chronology is constructed.
When dendrochronology can be used, it provides the most accurate dates of any technique. In the American Southwest, the accuracy and precision of dendrochronology has enabled the development of one of the most.
Often events can be dated to within a decade. This precision has allowed archaeologists working in the American Southwest to reconstruct patterns of village growth and subsequent abandonment with a fineness of detail unmatched in most of the world. Radiometric dating methods are more recent than dendrochronology.
However, dendrochronology provides an important calibration technique for radiocarbon dating techniques. All radiometric-dating techniques are based on the well-established principle from physics that large samples of radioactive isotopes decay at precisely known rates. The rate of decay of a radioactive isotope is usually given by its half-life.
The decay of any individual nucleus is completely random. The half-life is a measure of the probability that a given atom will decay in a certain time.
The shorter the half-life, the more likely the atom will decay. This probability does not increase with time. If an atom has not decayed, the probability that it will decay in the future remains exactly the same. This means that no matter how many atoms are in a sample, approximately one-half will decay in one half-life. The remaining atoms have exactly the same decay probability, so in another half-life, one half of the remaining atoms will decay. The amount of time required for one-half of a radioactive sample to decay can be precisely determined.
The particular radioisotope used to determine the age of an object depends on the type of object and its age. Radiocarbon is the most common and best known of radiometric dating techniques, but it is also possibly the most misunderstood. It was developed at the University of Chicago in by a group of American scientists led by Willard F.
Radiocarbon dating has had an enormous impact on archaeology. In the last 50 years, radiocarbon dating has provided the basis for a worldwide cultural chronology. Recognizing the importance of this technique, the Nobel Prize committee awarded the Prize in Chemistry to Libby in The physics behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward. Earth 's atmosphere is constantly bombarded with cosmic rays from outer space. Cosmic-ray neutrons collide with atoms of nitrogen in the upper atmosphere, converting them to atoms of radioactive carbon The carbon atom quickly combines with an oxygen molecule to form carbon dioxide.
This radioactive carbon dioxide spreads throughout Earth's atmosphere, where it is taken up by plants along with normal carbon As long as the plant is alive, the relative amount ratio of carbon to carbon remains constant at about one carbon atom for every one trillion carbon atoms.
Some animals eat plants and other animals eat the plant-eaters.
As long as they are alive, all living organisms have the same ratio of carbon to carbon as in the atmosphere because the radioactive carbon is continually replenished, either through photosynthesis or through the food animals eat. However, when the plant or animal dies, the intake of carbon stops and the ratio of carbon to carbon immediately starts to decrease. The half-life of carbon is 5, years. After 5, years, about one-half of the carbon atoms will have decayed.
After another 5, years, one-half of the remaining atoms will have decayed.