Relative dating of artefacts explained


Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the examination of material remains. In order to do this, archaeologists use a variety of relative dating methods to ascertain the age of objects found at a particular site.

What is 'relative dating'?

Relative dating is the process of determining whether two objects are the same age or not. The first step in relative dating is to identify the differences between the two objects. 


Absolute dating, on the other hand, is used to determine an exact age for an object. This can be done through a variety of methods, such as radiocarbon dating or dendrochronology (tree-ring dating). These methods are generally more expensive and time-consuming than relative dating methods, but they can give you a much more accurate date for an object.


Stratigraphy is the study of layers of sedimentary rock. When objects are found in particularly layers of rock or soil, it can help to date the object. By looking at the layers of sedimentary rock, archaeologists can determine which objects are older and which are younger.


Stratigraphy works because it uses the 'rule of superposition'. This rule states that the oldest layer of sedimentary rock is always at the bottom, and the youngest layer is always at the top. For example, if you were looking at a cliff face, you would look for layers of sedimentary rock. The oldest layer would be at the bottom and the youngest layer would be at the top.


Therefore, objects found in layers of soil that are beneath another layer, the object is considered to be older than those found above it. By looking at the placement of these layers, you could determine which object is older and which object is younger.


Cross-dating is another relative dating method that uses stratigraphy. Cross-dating works by comparing the stratigraphy of two different sites. If two sites have the same type of strata in the same order, then it's likely that they are roughly the same age. This method is often used to date archaeological sites that don't have a lot of material remains.


Typology is a system of relative dating that classifies objects according to their type. For example, you might have a type of pottery that was popular in the early 1900s. By looking at the typology of an object, you can often determine when it was made.


Ceramic typology is particularly useful for dating archaeological sites. Ceramic typology is the study of pottery styles. This method can be used to date objects made of ceramic, such as pots or vases. This is because ceramics are often found at sites and can be easily classified according to type. 


By looking at the types of ceramics found at a site, archaeologists can often date the site to a particular period in history. This method is not always accurate, as pottery styles can change over time, but it can give you a general idea of when an object was made.

Fluorine dating

Fluorine dating is a relative dating method that can be used to date bones and teeth. This method works by measuring the amount of fluorine in the bone or tooth. Fluorine is absorbed from the ground into the bones and teeth of animals, so the more fluorine an animal has, the older it is.


This method is not always accurate, as fluorine levels can vary depending on where an animal lived, but it can give you a general idea of its age.

Piltdown Man

The Piltdown Man was a hoax that was discovered in the early 20th century. The Piltdown Man was a human skull that had been tampered with to make it look like it belonged to an ape. At the time of its initial 'find', it was hard for archaeologists to prove whether this skull was genuine or not.


However, when fluorine dating was developed in the mid-20th century, it was quickly discovered that the Piltdown Man was a hoax. The skull had been tampered with to make it look much older than it actually was.

Famous discoveries

There are many famous archaeological discoveries that have used relative dating methods. One of the most famous is the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in caves near the Dead Sea in 1947. The scrolls were dated using a variety of methods, including radiocarbon dating and stratigraphy.


Another famous discovery is the Tomb of Tutankhamun, which was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter. The tomb was dated using a variety of methods, including ceramic typology and fluorine dating.


Relative dating methods are an important tool for archaeologists to use when trying to piece together the history of a site or object. These methods can give you an approximate date for an object, which can be very helpful when trying to understand the past. 


However, it is important to remember that these methods are not always accurate, and that other factors, such as the environment an object was found in, can affect the accuracy of these methods. If you are interested in learning more about relative dating methods, there are many resources available online or at your local library.