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Scientific Dating Methods

The main relative dating method is stratigraphy. Stratigraphy is the study of layers of rocks or the objects embedded within those layers. It is based on the assumption which, except at unconformities , nearly always holds true that deeper layers were deposited earlier, and thus are older than more shallow layers. The sequential layers of rock represent sequential intervals of time. Although these units may be sequential, they are not necessarily continuous due to erosional removal of some intervening units.

The smallest of these rock units that can be matched to a specific time interval is called a bed. Beds that are related are grouped together into members, and members are grouped into formations. Seriation is the ordering of objects according to their age. It is a relative dating method. In a landmark study, archaeologist James Ford used seriation to determine the chronological order of American Indian pottery styles in the Mississippi Valley.

Artifact styles such as pottery types are seriated by analyzing their abundances through time. This is done by counting the number of pieces of each style of the artifact in each stratigraphic layer and then graphing the data. A layer with many pieces of a particular style will be represented by a wide band on the graph, and a layer with only a few pieces will be represented by a narrow band. The bands are arranged into battleship-shaped curves, with each style getting its own curve.

The curves are then compared with one another, and from this the relative ages of the styles are determined. A limitation to this method is that it assumes all differences in artifact styles are the result of different periods of time, and are not due to the immigration of new cultures into the area of study. The term faunal dating refers to the use of animal bones to determine the age of sedimentary layers or objects such as cultural artifacts embedded within those layers.

Scientists can determine an approximate age for a layer by examining which species or genera of animals are buried in it. The Weakness of Relative Dating The potential flaws in relative dating in archaeology are obvious. Simply assuming that an artefact is older because it was found at a lower depth in the record is only subjective science. There are many instances of deep holes being dug for rubbish pits or to locate well water that protrude into the record of older strata injecting more modern material as they are filled in over time.

Landslides and slips can completely change the topography of an entire archaeology site burying what was once on top by that which is much older, hence reversing the strata layers. Absolute Dating As An Archaeology Dating Technique A more precise and accurate archaeology dating system is known as absolute dating and can in most circumstances provide a calendar year to the object.

Since there has been a transformation in the dating techniques of archaeologists. Absolute dating is highly dependant on laboratory analysis. There are a number of techniques that have come to archaeology through the nuclear research efforts during WW2. Radiocarbon Dating In Archaeology Radiocarbon dating uses the biological assumption that all living things absorb carbon, both ordinary carbon, C12, and radioactive carbon, C14, into their living tissue.

At the moment of death the C14 begins to decay at a rate that scientists already know from other experiments. The missing amount can then determine how long it took to be lost and therefore date the object to a precise period. C14 Radiocarbon dating can only be used on organic matter. However, it can be used to confirm the antiquity of an item. Optically stimulated luminescence OSL [ edit ] Optically stimulated luminescence OSL dating constrains the time at which sediment was last exposed to light.

During sediment transport, exposure to sunlight 'zeros' the luminescence signal. Upon burial, the sediment accumulates a luminescence signal as natural ambient radiation gradually ionises the mineral grains. Careful sampling under dark conditions allows the sediment to be exposed to artificial light in the laboratory which releases the OSL signal. The amount of luminescence released is used to calculate the equivalent dose De that the sediment has acquired since deposition, which can be used in combination with the dose rate Dr to calculate the age.

Dendrochronology The growth rings of a tree at Bristol Zoo , England. Each ring represents one year; the outside rings, near the bark, are the youngest. Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings, also known as growth rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year. Dendrochronology has three main areas of application:


Dating methods


Absolute dating

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