Archaeologists use many different techniques to determine the age of a particular artifact, site, or part of a site. Two broad categories of dating or chronometric techniques that archaeologists use are called relative and absolute dating. Stratigraphy is the oldest of the relative dating methods that archaeologists use to date things. Stratigraphy is based on the law of superposition--like a layer cake, the lowest layers must have been formed first. In other words, artifacts found in the upper layers of a site will have been deposited more recently than those found in the lower layers. Cross-dating of sites, comparing geologic strata at one site with another location and extrapolating the relative ages in that manner, is still an important dating strategy used today, primarily when sites are far too old for absolute dates to have much meaning.
Dating techniques are procedures used by scientists to determine the age of rocks, fossils, or artifacts. Relative dating methods tell only if one sample is older or younger than another; absolute dating methods provide an approximate date in years. The latter have generally been available only since Many absolute dating techniques take advantage of radioactive decay , whereby a radioactive form of an element decays into a non-radioactive product at a regular rate. Others, such as amino acid racimization and cation-ratio dating, are based on chemical changes in the organic or inorganic composition of a sample.
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. These are mainly non-scientific dating methods. These methods were relied on especially prior to the introduction of scientific methods of dating.
Relative dating is used to arrange geological events, and the rocks they leave behind, in a sequence. The method of reading the order is called stratigraphy layers of rock are called strata. Relative dating does not provide actual numerical dates for the rocks. Next time you find a cliff or road cutting with lots of rock strata, try working out the age order using some simple principles:.