Archeology excavation dating techniques

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For hundreds of years after the fall of Rome, hunks of marble were hacked off the map for building material. In 1562, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese made a valiant attempt to collect the surviving sections.

Since then every attempt to piece together the 1,163 fragments has failed.

Perhaps it was carried there by erosion, or dislodged by a careless archaeologist. All this allows archaeologists to go on arguing about ages, for ages. The ideal solution is to look underground before you start.

Astonishingly, techniques are coming along to do just that.

One day, he promises, he will generate moving 3-D pictures and take us on underground video "tours" of archaeological sites.

The great English archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler used to remind his students, "The archeologist is not digging up things, he is digging up people." Regardless of the changes in methods, archaeological aims remain the same: to illuminate the past and bring back to life the experiences and cultures of people long gone.

This is radioactive and decays with a half-life of 5730 years (it takes 5730 years for half of the C-14 in a sample to become C-12).

Plants and animals contain carbon in the same mixture as the atmosphere. By measuring how much — or, rather, how little — C-14 remains, researchers can calculate how much time has elapsed since death occurred. An object may be contaminated by carbon from another source.

Or, it may not "belong" at the level where the carbon-containing material was found. They know where not to dig — where nothing interesting exists. Excavation is expensive, and there is nothing an archaeologist likes less than staring at an empty hole.

Often times, local people are employed to help with the basic chores around a dig, as in this Egyptian dig site.

Before starting a dig the first step is to map a site, dividing it into small squares.

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