Absolute and relative dating methods in archaeology

Dating in Archaeology | The Canadian Encyclopedia

absolute and relative dating methods in archaeology

Even when the absolute dates are available, we have to supplement the information with relative dating. The various methods of relative dating are;. 1. Subsequently, radiocarbon dating, an absolute dating of absolute dating methods; it generally allows archaeologists to identify. May 20, They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order. Organic remains, archaeological artefacts.

Indeed, some items whose exact or approximate age is known are called "diagnostic artifacts. Their presence on archaeological sites is used to date the soil layers and the objects and events they are associated with and thus contributes to refine the chronology of sites.

Typology Typology is a method that compares reference objects in order to classify them according to their similarity or dissimilarity and link them to a specific context or period. This technique is frequently used when it is impossible to make use of absolute dating methods; it generally allows archaeologists to identify the period to which a cultural site or object belongs, without specifying the date of occupation.

This method is primarily applied to projectile points and ceramic vessels. These present many characteristics that are used for comparing them, such as morphology and raw materials in the case of stone tools, and decorative techniques and motifs in the case of ceramics.

Relative Vs. Absolute Dating: The Ultimate Face-off

Absolute Dating Radiocarbon Dating Radiocarbon dating is the most widely used dating technique in archaeology. It relies on a natural phenomenon that is the foundation of life on earth. Indeed, carbon 14 14C is formed from the reaction caused by cosmic rays that convert nitrogen into carbon 14 and then carbon dioxide by combining with carbon 12 12C and carbon 13 13Cwhich are stable carbon isotopes.

absolute and relative dating methods in archaeology

Following the death of an organism, any exchange ceases and the carbon 14, which is radioactive and therefore unstable, slowly begins to disintegrate at a known rate half-life of years, ie, after this period only half of the total carbon 14 present at the time of death remains.

A sample requires 10 to 20 grams of matter and usually consists of charred organic material, mainly charcoal, but bones see zooarchaeology and shells can also be dated using this technique.

An initial reading dates the specimen which is then calibrated by considering this date and its correspondence with the measurable level of carbon 14 stored over time in the growth rings of certain tree species, including redwood and pine bristol. Subsequently, the calibration of that date provides a time interval where the event or object being dated can be situated eg, AD. Radiocarbon dating, however, can only be used for dating objects that are less than 50 years.

Dendrochronology Dendrochronology is a method that studies the rings of tree trunks to define characteristic sequences by analyzing the morphology of growth rings for a given species. This method is based on the principle that the variation in tree growth from one year to another is influenced by the degree of precipitation, sunshine, temperature, soil type and all ambient conditions and that, consequently, reference patterns can be distinguished.

Several sets of rings from different trees are matched to build an average sequence. Subsequently, overlapping series of average sequences from trees that died at different times and come from various sources ie, the wood of historic buildings, archaeological and fossil woods are used to build a chronological sequence covering several hundred years which becomes a reference.

Finally, absolute dating is obtained by synchronizing the average sequences with series of live and thus datable trees and thus anchors the tree-ring chronology in time. Dendrochronology mainly uses softwood species that are sensitive to changes in growth conditions, while hardwoods show rather little variation in ring width. This method provides very accurate dating, sometimes to the nearest year.

It is especially used to develop calibration curves used to correct data obtained from radiocarbon dating, a technique that remains imprecise due to fluctuations in the concentration of carbon 14 in the atmosphere over the centuries. Thermoluminescence Thermoluminescence uses the phenomenon of ionizing radiations that naturally occur in the atmosphere. This technique relies on a unique physicochemical property of certain minerals especially quartz and feldspar that have an imperfect structure and therefore retain radioactive elements in the natural environment.

When these minerals are heated while a pot is being baked during the occupation of an archaeological site, for instance, the traps formed by their crystal structure are emptied and the clock is reset to zero. Subsequently, the total flow rate of irradiation paleodose since the reset is calculated by heating the specimen once more, and this result is then compared to the annual input recorded by a dosimeter installed on the archaeological site where the object being dated was found.

Thermoluminescence is a technique that requires complex manipulation. To obtain a date for a single pottery sample, it is necessary to perform a laboratory fractionation of the clay mineral used in the manufacture of the pottery and prepare nearly 75 sub-samples; some of these are heated to release the level of thermoluminescence, while others receive a radiation dose to measure their sensitivity to radiation.

Thermoluminescence can replace radiocarbon dating to date events that occurred more than 50 years ago; it is used mainly for dating stone fireplaces, ceramics and fire remains. Most of the trees in a give area show the same variability in the width of the growth rings because of the conditions they all endured.

Thus there is co-relation between the rings of one tree to that of another. Further, one can correlate with one another growth rings of different trees of same region, and by counting backwards co-relating the inner rings of younger trees with the outer rings of older trees we can reconstruct a sequence of dates.

Relative Vs. Absolute Dating: The Ultimate Face-off

By comparing a sample with these calendars or charts we can estimate the age of that sample. Thus it is possible to know the age of the wood used for making furniture or in the construction work. The main disadvantage with the system is that, we require a sample showing at least 20 growth rings to make an objective estimation of its age. Hence smaller samples cannot be dated. This method can date the sample upto the time of cutting the tree, but not the date when it was actually brought into use.

This method is based on the fact that the magnetic field of the earth is changing constantly in direction and proporationate intensity, and that these changes lead to measurable records.

The magnetism present in the clay is nullified once the pottery, bricks or klins are heated above degree centigrade. This implanted magnetism can be measured and the date of its firing estimated. The dating of ancient pottery by Thermoluminiscence measurements was suggested by Farrington Daniels of the University of Wisconsin in America Thermoluminescence is the release in the form of light of stored energy from a substance when it is heated.

absolute and relative dating methods in archaeology

All ceramic material contain certain amounts of radioactive impurities uranium, thorium, potassium. When the ceramic is heated the radioactive energy present in the clay till then is lost, and fresh energy acquired gradually depending on the time of its existence. The thermoluminescence observed is a measure of the total dose of radiation to which the ceramic has been exposed since the last previous heating, i. The glow emitted is directly proportional to the radiation it received multiplied by the years.

It is present in nearly every mineral. During rock formation, especially lava, tuffs, pumice, etc. Virtually all argon that had accumulated in the parent material will escape. The process of radio-active decay of potassium continues and the argon accumulated again which when measured will give a clue as to the age of the rock. The application of this method to archaeology depends on locating the widespread distribution of localities that have recently in the last half-million years experienced volcanic activity forming layers over the culture-bearing deposits.

The city of Pompeii in Italy is a good example of the destruction caused by volcanic activity. This method is more useful in dating the prehistoric sites. The starting phase of the Palaeolithic period in India is pushed back by atleast one million years from the earlier dating of about 5 lakh years B.

This unique example comes from a sit known as Bori in Maharashtra, where it was found that a layer yielding flake tools is overlain by a layer of volcanic ash. When this ash was subjected to Potassium-Argon dating it yielded a date of 1. Initially this method was developed to date the meteorites and other extra-terristrial objects, but it is now being applied to archaeological purposes as well.

It is known that may minerals and natural glasses obsidian, tektites contain very small quantities of uranium. Through timethe uranium undergoes a slow spontaneous process of decay. This method of dating depends upon the measurements of detectable damage called tracks in the structure of glasses caused by the fission.


These tracks disappear when the glass is heated above a critical temperature and fresh tracks formed in course of time. The fresh tracks are counted to date the sample. This method is suitable for dating objects which have undergone heating process some ,, years ago. Obsidian is a natural glass substance that is often formed as a result of volcanic activity. Prehistoric man was impressed by the naturally sharp edges produced when a piece of obsidian was fractured, and hence, preferred the material in tool making.

The dating of obsidian artifacts is based on the fact that a freshly made surface of obsidian will absorb water from its surroundings to form a measurable hydration layer. The surface of obsidian has a strong affinity for water as is shown by the fact that the vapour pressure of the absorption continues until the surface is saturated with a layer of water molecules. These water molecules then slowly diffuses into the body of the obsidian. The mechanical strains produced as a result throughout the hydrated layer can be recognized under polarized light.

Each time a freshly fractured surface is prepard on a piece of obsidian, the hydration process begins afresh. The absorption takes place at a steady rate. The water content increases with time. The fluorine content of fossil bones increases with the passage of time, but at rate which varies from sit to sit, depending on the hydrological conditions, climate, type of matrix and amount of fluorine in circulation.

The fluorine method is most suitable for the relative dating of bones in gravelly or sandy alluvial deposits in temperate regions.

This method is useful when the containing deposit is alluvial clay, but it is of no use in cave earth or volcanic soil. Its usefulness is limited to distinguishing modern from prehistoric and prehistoric from Pleistocene like that.

The fluorine content of a specimen may vary with the texture or type of material that is sampled. Spongy bones absorb more fluorine than compact or harder bones.