Relative dating methods in archeology
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.The method is still a standard for cemetery studies.Absolute dating, the ability to attach a specific chronological date to an object or collection of objects, was a breakthrough for archaeologists.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.Without those, the archaeologists were in the dark as to the age of various societies. The use of tree ring data to determine chronological dates, dendrochronology, was first developed in the American southwest by astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass.In 1901, Douglass began investigating tree ring growth as an indicator of solar cycles.
And, outside of certain periods in our past, there simply were no chronologically dated objects, or the necessary depth and detail of history that would assist in chronologically dating civilizations.
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.
Seriation, on the other hand, was a stroke of genius.
First used, and likely invented by archaeologist Sir William Flinders-Petrie in 1899, seriation (or sequence dating) is based on the idea that artifacts change over time.