How do scientists figure out how old an archeological find is?
Elena, Age 11, Kentucky
Dr. dig responds:
To figure out the age of an archaeological find, scientists look at both the
place where it was found (its context and stratigraphy [the level at which
it was found]) and at the find itself. If the find has come from a
well-excavated site, it may be possible to date it by its association with
other objects, some of which may actually have dates written on them, or by
reference to the surrounding sand or soil. If that's not possible, it's time
to call in the experts. All types of finds have their own specialist: There
are stone experts, bone experts, pottery experts and so on. They will use a
variety of techniques to get a date. A pottery expert, for example, will
study the shape, clay, and contents of a pot, and may well use
thermoluminescence dating (an analysis of the radioactive particles
contained within the fired clay) to get a firm date.