Many material remains of man’s past have no dating problem: they may be, like coins, or most coins, self-dating, or they may be dated by man-made dates in written records.But the great and difficult part of the archaeologist’s work is dating material remains that are not themselves dated. Sometimes an object from another culture, the date of which is known (e.g., in the case of pottery, by its style), is found at a previously undated site.For a long time archaeologists searched for an absolute chronology that went beyond this and could turn their relative chronologies into absolute dates.Clay- left behind by the melting glaciers when the European Ice Age came to an end.In the excavation of a great tell like Ur or Troy the relative chronology of the various levels of occupation is the first thing to be established.Some archaeologists, even until quite recent times, have mistakenly supposed that depth below ground level is itself an indication of antiquity.But even in properly observed and recorded stratigraphic levels there is often doubt, and the question arises: are all the artifacts and human remains found in the same level contemporary?Is it possible that there could have been later intrusions that have been difficult to distinguish in the field? If bones in apparently the same geological or archaeological level have markedly different fluorine content, then it is clear that there must be interference—for example, by a later burial, or by deliberate planting of faked remains, as happened in the case of the and records in Egypt and Mesopotamia goes back only 5,000 years.
Isaiah Berlin’s perceptive comments on the inherent difficulties in practicing “scientific history” are particularly apropos for archaeology.Then, using the relative dating principle () the archaeologist reasons that the material found with the imported object is contemporary with it.Conversely, an object from an undated culture may be found at a site whose date is known.Thus nonliterate communities can be dated by their contact with literate ones.This technique is known as cross dating; it was first developed by of Europe in the Neolithic, Bronze, and Early Iron ages is based on cross dating with the ancient Near East.
Excavation often seems to the general public the main and certainly the most glamorous aspect of archaeology; but fieldwork and excavation represent only a part of the archaeologist’s work.