Chronology is the science of locating events in time. A chronology may be either relative -- that is, locating related events relative to each other -- or absolute -- locating these events to specific dates in a Chronological Era. An arrangement of events, with absolute dates, from either earliest to latest or the reverse, is also called a chronology or a timeline. (See also Chronicle.)
In the absence of written history, with its chronicles and king lists , late 19th century archaeologists found that they could develop relative chronologies based on pottery techniques and styles. In the field of Egyptology, William Flinders Petrie pioneered sequence dating to penetrate pre-dynastic Neolithic times, using groups of contemporary artefacts deposited together at a single time in graves and working backwards methodically from the earliest historical phases of Egypt. Compare the American technique of Seriation.
Known wares discovered at strata in sometimes quite distant sites, the product of trade, helped extend the network of chronologies. Some cultures have retained the name applied to them in reference to characteristic forms, for lack of an idea of what they called themselves: "The Beaker People" in northern Europe during the 3rd millennium BCE, for example. The study of the means of placing pottery and other cultural artefacts into some kind of order proceeds in two phases, classification and typology: Classification creates categories for the purposes of description, and typology seeks to identify and analyse changes that allow artefacts to be placed into sequences .
An increasing battery of laboratory techniques developed particularly after mid-20th century helped constantly revise and refine the chronologies developed for specific cultural areas. Unrelated dating methods help reinforce a chronology, an axiom of corroborative evidence. Ideally, archaeological materials used for dating a site should complement each other and provide a means of cross-checking. Conclusions drawn from just one unsupported technique are usually regarded as unreliable.
Bayesian analysis has recently started to be routinely applied in the analysis of chronological information, including radiocarbon-derived dates,
Though chronologies formulated before the 1960s are subject to serious skepticism today, more recent results are more robust than readily appears to journalists and enthusiastic amateurs.
- M. Aitken, Science-Based dating in Archaeology (Thames and Hudson, London) 1990: a recent overview
- P. Warren and V. Hankey, Aegean Bronze Age Chronology. Bristol, 1989.
- S. W. Manning, The Absolute Chronology of the Aegean Early Bronze Age: Archaeology, Radiocarbon, and History. Sheffield, 1995.
Last updated: 10-20-2005 22:55:12