Major dating methods used by archaeologists

Sometimes only one method is possible, reducing the confidence researchers have in the results. “They’re based on ‘it’s that old because I say so,’ a popular approach by some of my older colleagues,” says Shea, laughing, “though I find I like it myself as I get more gray hair.” Kidding aside, dating a find is crucial for understanding its significance and relation to other fossils or artifacts.Methods fall into one of two categories: relative or absolute.Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die.Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in their remains decreases.Researchers can measure the amount of these trapped electrons to establish an age.But to use any trapped charge method, experts first need to calculate the rate at which the electrons were trapped.Thermoluminescence: Silicate rocks, like quartz, are particularly good at trapping electrons.

Generally speaking, the more complex a poem or piece of pottery is, the more advanced it is and the later it falls in the chronology.

Biostratigraphy: One of the first and most basic scientific dating methods is also one of the easiest to understand.

Layers of rock build one atop another — find a fossil or artifact in one layer, and you can reasonably assume it’s older than anything above it.

Researchers can first apply an absolute dating method to the layer.

They then use that absolute date to establish a relative age for fossils and artifacts in relation to that layer. Anything below the Taupo tephra is earlier than 232; anything above it is later.

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