The revolutionary new ceramic dating method sheds new light on the prehistoric past


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A team from the University of Bristol has developed a new method for dating ceramics, which allows archaeologists with amazing accuracy to date prehistoric finds from around the world.


An exciting new method, described in detail in today's magazine NatureIt is currently used for dating ceramics from a number of key locations to 8,000 years in the UK, Europe and Africa.

Ceramics and dating game

Archaeological pottery has been used to date. archaeological sites for more than a century, and since the Roman period, fairly accurate dating can be offered. But in the more distant past, for example, in the prehistoric places of the first Neolithic farmers, accurate dating becomes more difficult because the types of ceramics are often less distinguishable and there are no coins or historical records that could give context.

This is where radiocarbon dating, also known as 14C dating, comes to the rescue. Until now, archaeologists had to radiocarbonize bones or other organic materials buried with pots in order to understand their age.

But the best and most accurate way to date pots would be to date them directly, which the University of Bristol team has now introduced, dating fatty acid left after cooking.

The team was led by Professor Richard Evershed of the Chemical School of the University of Bristol. He said: “The ability to directly meet with archaeological pots is one of the“ holy grails ”of archeology. This new method is based on an idea that I have followed for more than 20 years, and now it allows the community to better understand key archaeological phenomena. sites around the world.

“We made several earlier attempts to get the right method, but only after we founded our own radiocarbon complex in Bristol did we crack it. There is a special charm in how these new technologies came together to make this important work possible and now we can give an answer to archaeological questions that are currently very difficult to resolve. ”

How the method works

The trick was to isolate individual fatty compounds from food debris, possibly left by cooking meat or milk, protected in the pores of prehistoric pans. The team combined the latest high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance technology and mass spectrometry to develop a new way to isolate fatty acids and verify that they are of sufficient purity for accurate dating.

The team then had to show that the new approach yielded the same exact dates as the data from materials commonly dated by archeology, such as bones, seeds, and wood. To do this, the team looked at the fatty extracts of ancient ceramics at a number of key locations in the UK, Europe and Africa with already accurate dating dating back to 8,000 years.

From the famous Sweet Track site in Somerset and several locations in the Alsace region of France to the Çatalhöyük World Heritage site in central Turkey and the famous Takarkori rock shelter in Saharan Africa, this new method has proven its incredible accuracy to date. even during human life.

Professor Alex Bayliss, head of the department of scientific dating in Historical England, who conducted a statistical analysis, added: “It is very difficult to overestimate the importance of this progress for the archaeological community. The typology of ceramics is the most widely used dating technique in this discipline, and therefore the ability to place different types of ceramics in calendar time will be much more reliable will be of great practical importance. ”

Using the pottery calendar to better understand London's background

In London, England, a new dating method was used on a wonderful collection of pottery found in Shoreditch, which is considered the largest group of early Neolithic pottery ever found in the capital. Archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archeology) discovered archaeologists from an extraordinary tomb, consisting of 436 fragments of at least 24 separate vessels with a total weight of almost 6.5 kg.

The site appeared from the time the first farmers arrived in Britain, but it was difficult to date it until the Bristol team, using its new method of dating traces of milk fats extracted from pots, discovered that the pottery was 5500 years old. The team was able to date the collection of ceramics in just 138 years, until 3600 BC.

The results show that around 5,600 years ago, the area around today's Shoreditch High Street was used by well-known farmers who ate dairy products for cows, sheep or goats as a central part of their diet. These people were probably associated with migrant groups that were the first to introduce farming to Britain from continental Europe around 4000 BC. – only 400 years ago.

John Cotton, a prehistoric consultant working for MOLA, said: “This remarkable collection helps fill a critical gap in London’s background. Archaeological evidence of the period when agriculture arrived in Britain rarely survives in the capital, let alone stay in place. This is the most convincing evidence that people in this area, which was later occupied by the city and its surrounding inland areas, lived less mobile and were based on agriculture during the early Neolithic period. ”

The results of this site are a prime example of where ceramics survives in circumstances that other organic materials do not have, so using this revolutionary new method will reveal important information about our prehistoric past.


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Additional Information:
Accurate 14C dating of archaeological pottery vessels, Nature (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-020-2178-z https://nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2178-z

citation:
The revolutionary new method for dating ceramics sheds new light on the prehistoric past (2020, April 8)
restored April 8, 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-04-revolutionary-method-dating-pottery-prehistoric.html

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