Question of the Week Podcast

Question of the Week episode

Fri, 3rd May 2013

How best to date ancient artefacts?

Ancient Egyptian woodworking (c)

Naked Archaeologist Diana O Carroll takes us on a trip of dating ancient artefacts. Plus we ask, is city living an immune booster?

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  • How do we date ancient artefacts?

    Historians and archaeologists talk about ancient artefacts or structures that are so many thousands of years old. How do they date these objects? Is it just from carbon dating? And did these ancient civilisations have some sort of time and date recording system in place then a...

 

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Neil and Babette McDonald wrote in with this: Historians and archaeologists talk about ancient artifacts and structures which are so many thousands of years old. How do they date these objects? Is it just from carbon dating? And did these ancient civilisations have some sort of time and date recording system in place as well?

So how best to date ancient artifacts?
The answer in our next show. Meanwhile, what do you think?
evan_au, Sat, 27th Apr 2013

Links to a number of ancient (and some not-so-ancient) calendars are available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_calendars#Obsolete_calendars

A method of calculating dates in the Bible is to describe "In the second year of the reign of King X...".
I imagine this method could be problematic in a far-flung empire, since it may take 6 months to discover that there is now a new king. evan_au, Sat, 27th Apr 2013

Carbon dating

The ancient civilizations that are predecessors of the present without any subsequent civilizations - are tied into the present by carbon dating. "The Solutrean industry is a relatively advanced flint tool-making style of the Upper Palaeolithic, from around 22,000 to 17,000 BP"  done by dating organic material in the remains JimBob, Sun, 28th Apr 2013

Inorganic dating: Crystal grains in pottery, lava and sediments accumulate crystal defects due to radioactivity in the material, and also from cosmic rays. This "clock" is reset when pottery is "fired", or dirt is exposed to sunlight. This energy can be released as photons by heating the sample or irradiating it with light.

By measuring the rate of radioactive decay in the sample, and estimating historical levels of cosmic rays, it is possible to obtain an estimate of the time since lava solidified, sediments were laid down, or pottery was fired. Current techniques claim an accuracy sometimes as good as 5%, for ages in the range 300-100,000 years.

This can sometimes be used as an independent way of confirming carbon dates, by dating the soil in which the organic sample was found.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_dating evan_au, Sun, 28th Apr 2013

Carbon dating. confusious says, Wed, 15th May 2013

Online dating. dlorde, Fri, 17th May 2013

dlorde - lovely +1

Stratification - if you find something in undisturbed soil and buried under a roman mosaic you can be sure it is pre-roman.  This has become a fine art in archaeology.

Dendrochronology - measuring the pattern of growth rings in wood.  we have growth records going back 10s of thousands of years - which allow the specific arrangement of good years and lean years within a sampled piece of wood to be matched with the known historic growth. imatfaal, Sun, 19th May 2013

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