Methods of dating ancient pottery

Until the 20th century, with its multiple developments, only relative dates could be determined with any confidence.Since the turn of the century, several methods to measure elapsed time have been discovered.For detailed information about how seriation works, see Seriation: A Step by Step Description.Seriation is thought to be the first application of statistics in archaeology. The most famous seriation study was probably Deetz and Dethlefsen's study Death's Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow, on changing styles on gravestones in New England cemeteries.Using local pine trees, Douglass built a 450 year record of the tree ring variability.Clark Wissler, an anthropologist researching Native American groups in the Southwest, recognized the potential for such dating, and brought Douglass subfossil wood from puebloan ruins.The scholar most associated with the rules of stratigraphy (or law of superposition) is probably the geologist Charles Lyell.The basis for stratigraphy seems quite intuitive today, but its applications were no less than earth-shattering to archaeological theory.

For example, since each Roman emperor had his own face stamped on coins during his realm, and dates for emperor's realms are known from historical records, the date a coin was minted may be discerned by identifying the emperor depicted.The main drawback to dendrochronology is its reliance on the existence of relatively long-lived vegetation with annual growth rings.Secondly, annual rainfall is a regional climatic event, and so tree ring dates for the southwest are of no use in other regions of the world.For example, JJA Worsaae used this law to prove the Three Age System.For more information on stratigraphy and how it is used in archaeology, see the Stratigraphy glossary entry.

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