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Archaeologists often utilize a number of dating techniques, both relative and absolute in

their research efforts. This chapter, though primarily concerned with absolute dating methods,
will also briefly discuss relative dating methods as well. Though many archaeologists are aware
of the uses and process of many absolute dating techniques they utilize, some are not aware of
what is required to systematically collect samples and the specific equipment they will need
before they arrive in the field. We all have had experiences in the field where equipment failures
or malfunctions have cost us valuable working time. owever, we have all probably also had
experiences where we lacked the proper equipment to collect samples that have cost us valuable
time as well. !uckily, the latter problem is preventable. This chapter will outline relevant "orth
American dating techniques, let you know the appropriate context for their use, and tell you what
to bring to the field in order to prevent losing that valuable working time.
#elative dating is used to determine the age of artifacts or sites in relation to other artifacts or
known sites, and does not provide precise dates. #elative dating is primarily concerned with
stratigraphy and the !aw of $uperposition, which states that layers or levels on a site become
older the further down from the current surface level you descend. %sing stratigraphy,
archaeologists can disseminate the relative sequence of depositional events within a site.
Although relative dating is useful in a clearly defined site, it is only useful when used in
concordance with either diagnostically datable artifacts, or absolute dating techniques. This
allows archaeologists to determine either the terminus post quem &T'() or terminus ante quem
&TA() of undatable artifacts from a site. T'(*s allow archaeologists to determine the earliest
point in time an artifact may have been deposited, and likewise TA(*s allow us to determine the
date before which an artifact must have been deposited in the record. With properly recorded and
documented startigraphy, we can easily define layers and determine the relative temporal
chronology of artifacts deposited.
With recent and continued advances in absolute dating techniques however, many archaeologists
now employ them as frequently as possible to increase the validity of their findings, as well as in
a number of other applications &e.g. defining cultural and temporal complexes). Absolute dating
techniques produce specific chronological dates &sometimes with a standard error) for artifacts
and culturally or naturally deposited ob+ects in association with artifacts. A number of absolute
dating techniques relevant to "orth American archaeology will be discussed here, including
dendrochronology, radiocarbon &,-.), /lectron $pin #esonance, Thermoluminescence, obsidian
hydration, archaeomagnetic, and cation0ratio.
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dating methods -
Prof. Willard F.Libby (1947) of the University of hi!ago develo"ed the radioa!tive !arbon
dating method to determine the absol#te age of "rehistori! sites. $his method %as devised
to meas#re the amo#nt of lo% level radioa!tivity of !arbon remaining in an!ient and dead
materials of organi! origin. With this meas#rement it %as "ossible to tell %hen a "lant or
an animal had died.
&ne of the most im"ortant tas's of a "rehistori! ar!haeologist after dis!overing a
"rehistori! site having "rehistori! artifa!ts is to determine absol#te age of artifa!ts so as to
determine the age of the site as %ell as the !#lt#re %hi!h the artifa!ts belonged.
With the hel" of this method a "rehistori! ar!haeologist !o#ld learn the a""ro(imate year
in %hi!h a tree %as !#t for a ho#se beam) ho% long ago a man re"resented by a m#mmy
had died or %hen the fire had been b#rn in a fire "la!e.
14 dating is one the methods of absol#te dating. $here are t%o ty"es of dating- absol#te
dating and relative dating. *bsol#te dating te!hni+#e indi!ates the e(a!t date of an event in
terms of years or other s"e!ifi! meas#res of time %hereas the relative dating te!hni+#e
indi!ates only the relative "osition)not in terms of years.
,ome im"ortantabsol#te dating te!hni+#es are a) -adio !arbon dating b) Potassi#m argon
dating )!) $hermol#minis!ent dating and .endro!hronology.* fe% relative methods
te!hni+#es %hi!h are #sed in determining the relative ages of "re histori! material are a)
,tratigra"hy b) $y"o-te!hnology !) *sso!iated finds and d) Flo#rine dating
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Archaeological investigations have no meaning unless the chronological sequence of the
events are reconstructed faithfully. The real meaning of history is to trace the developments in
various fields of the human past. Towards this end, while investigating the past cultures,
archaeology depends on various dating methods. These dating methods can broadly be divided
into two categories, i.e. , #elative dating methods and 1) Absolute dating methods.
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This dating method is also known as 2Archaeological 3ating4 or 2istorical
.hronology4. These are mainly non0scientific dating methods. These methods were relied on
especially prior to the introduction of scientific methods of dating. 5ut, even when the scientific
methods of absolute dating are available, this method of dating has not lost its importance, as
many a time we have to depend solely on relative dating. /ven when the absolute dates are
available, we have to supplement the information with relative dating. The various methods of
relative dating are6
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This method depends on the common observation that the height of the habitational area
increases as the people continue to live at the same place. The deposit thus occurring forms
layers depending on the nature of the material brought in by the people inhabiting the area.
According to this method, the upper deposits are younger and the lower deposits are older.
5asing on this principle, the cultural assemblages found in different layers can be assigned a
chronological personality. 7or example, if the cultural contents of the lower deposit are 8auryan
in character, appropriately this deposit may be assigned a date between -990199 5... $imilarly,
if the cultural equipment of the upper deposit are of the $unga period, this deposit has to placed
between 1990:; 5...
This method, however, has some disadvantages. <n practice it is found that the mounds
are disturbed=> by all sorts of pits and dumps. (uite often, the archaeologist decided the change
of stratum on the basis of the 2feed4 of the deposit. <n such cases sub+ective element cannot be
ruled out. 5ut, for a single culture site the method is quite reliable.
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(uite convincing dates are sometimes arrived at by importing parallels from other
contemporaneous cultures. This parallelism is formed due to trade relations, particularly wehen
trade followed in both directions. 7or example, beads closely resembling those from the temple
repositories at .noss and dating from ..,?99 5.. were found in a late context &'eriod @) at
arappa. This closely agrees with the fact that the seals from <ndus @alley style from %r, Aish
and Tell Asmar and other sites fall within the range of 1B990,B99 5... in terms of
8esopotamian dates. 5y noting the association of these beads it has been possible to trace a
archaeological datum line across <ndian sub0continent and 8esopotamia.
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When a group or type of ob+ects are found together under circumstances suggesting
contemporanity they are said to be associated. <t is nearly always association with other
phenomena that gives a first clue as to the use, the age and chronological attribution of a
potential datum, but age at least may sometimes be inferred from position in a geological deposit
or a layer of peat. Cnce a type has been classified by the aid of its context further specimen of
the same type, even when found in isolation, can be assigned their place in terms of dates.
Association in simplicity can be illustrated by an example, at the port of Arikamedu near
'ondicherry. Antiquities and potteries of #oman origin were found in association with the finds
of <ndian origin. With the aid of these dated imports it was possible to date the associated <ndian
ob+ects to the first two centuries A.3. $imilarly "5' and 'DW has helped in fixing the
chronology of numerous sites.
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$ometimes dates are also obtained with the assistance of astronomy. .lay tablets found in
West Asia contain inscriptional evidence with regard to the occurrence of a solar eclipse.
$pecialists in the field of astronomical research placed this solar eclipse as on ,B
th
Eune :?; 5...
The Almanac belonging to 8aya culture of .entral America helped in dating several important
sites accurately on the basis of astronomy. Astronomical data have been applied in the study of
geological ice ages by calculating the curves for ma+or fluctuation of solar radiation.
.onsequently, the chronology worked out for the geological deposits helped in dating the
prehistoric tools found in these deposits.
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There are certain antiquities and potteries which by themselves have acquired a dating value.
Whenever and where ever such antiquities are found, associated finds are automatically dated.
7or example 8auryan terracottas, #oman amphorae, arappan pottery, "5' , 'DW,etc. have
obtained such dating value because of their distinct characteristics.
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$ir 7linders 'etrie had worked out a formula for dating the finds on the basis of the thickness
of the deposit. According to him a period of hundred years may be granted for the accumulation
of a deposit of one and a half feet. owever this formula has not been accepted by many
archaeologists. 7urther this formula has been disproved on many occasions.
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'ottery is probably the most abundantly available antique material in any archaeological
site. The types and forms or shape of these pots and also the antiquities under go evolutionary
changes in cource of time, and thus contribute towards our knowledge of the chronological
asssignments. <t is based on the simple fact that industrial and art forms and for that matter all
ob+ects are sub+ect to evolutionary process. Typological evolution may take either the form of
improvement or the form of devolution or degeneration. Working out these changes brought in
during the evolutionary process helps us in fixing chronological slots for different shapes.
/xamples may be cited from Dreek archaeology where even the shapes of the pots have been
appropriately and approximately dated. $imilarly the forms of the pots of the 8aya culture and
the shapes and decorations on the .hinese potteries have been so adequately dated that their
relative dating value is immense. 5ut in <ndia though the variety of wares are satisfactorily dated
the typological evolution is yet to be worked out.
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ouses, publica buildings and places of worship are also quite useful in providing
relative dating. <t is a common knowledge that the building and the building material of
arappan architecture are quite characteristic. Again the architectural feature of the building of
th-e $ultanate period, 8ughal period, 8aratha period are quite distinct and have, therefore,
accordingly been assigned different dates. $ize of the bricks, shapes of the pillars, features of the
capitals, pattersns of decorations and styles of paintings 0 all contribute towards relative datingin
archaeological research.
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This is one of the most important methods of dating the ancient ob+ects which contain
some carbon in them. This method was discovered by 'rof. Willard 7. !ibby in ,=-?, which
won him "oble 'rize in .hemistry. This method has achieved fame within a short time largely
because it provides chronology for the prehistoric cultures, when we do not have written records.
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This method is based on the presence of radio0active carbon of atomic weight ,- in
organic matter. .osmic radiation produces in the upper atmosphere of the earth "eutron
particles, some of which hit the atoms of ordinary "itrogen. This is captured by the nucleus of
the nitrogen atom, which gives off a proton and thus changing to .arbon0,-. This .arbon0,- in
turn is radio0active and by losing an electron reverts to nitrogen. This creation of new carbon
atoms and then reverting to nitrogen has achieved a state of equilibrium in the long duration of
the earths existence. .0,- along with the carbondioxide enter the living organisms in the process
of photosynthesis, and all the radiocarbon atoms that disintegrate in living things are replaced by
the .0,- entering the food chain. Thus the process of radio carbon present in the living organism
is same as in the atmosphere.
<t is further assumed that all living animals derive body material from the plant
kingdom, and also exhibit the same proportion of .0,- material. Therefore as soon as the
organism dies no further radiocarbon is added. At that time the radioactive disintegration takes
over in an uncompensated manner. The .0,- has a half0life of about B:;9 years, i.e. only half the
.0,- will remain after the half0life period. <n the disintegration process the .arbon0,- returns to
nitrogen emitting a beta particle in the process. The quantity of the .0,- remaining is measured
by counting the beta radiation emitted per minute per gram of material. 8odern .0,- emits about
,B counts per minute per gram, whereas .arbon0,- which is B:99 years old, emits about :.B
counts per minute per gram.
5 . $'/.<8/"$ 7C# .0,- 3AT<"D F
$pecimens of organic material which can yield good amount of carbon can be collected
for .0,- dating. 7or example charcoal, wood, shell, paper, leaves, cloth, animal hair, bone,
pollen, tooth, iron, prehistoric soot from the ceiling of the caves I practically any material
containing some carbon I can be sub+ected to .0,- dating.