Dating Techniques have improved in leaps and bounds since the 19thcentury when Charles Lyell first gave stratigraphy widespread publicity as a means of dating archaeological finds, if only relatively. Nicolas Steno had laid the foundations of this discipline two centuries earlier(j).
In very simple terms, generally it means that as you dig, older objects will be found under younger ones. For over a century this was one of the few dating methods available to archaeologists, but unfortunately it could not offer specific dates.
Another early dating method was ‘typology’(d), defined as the classification of artefacts according to their physical characteristics.
This approach can be traced back to the 16th century, when John Leland (1503-1552) began classifying bricks according to size and shape(I).
Arguably the best known uses of the method relate to Stone Age implements and later to pottery. Relating to Atlantis studies, we find that Jürgen Spanuth applied typology to the weaponry and dress of the Sea Peoples as portrayed at Medinet Habu to support his theory that they came from Northern Europe.
Absolute dating began with the introduction of radiometric dating methods beginning with radiocarbon dating developed by Willard Libby in 1949. Around the same time dendrochronology was being refined as a dating method with a margin of error less than that of radiometry, which requires expensive equipment and potentially has a greater risk of contamination. This was followed by thermoluminescence (1957) for dating pottery and more recently optical thermoluminescence (1994) has been developed, enabling the dating of building stone.
Dating objects between 50,000 and 100,000 years old has been difficult as most methods have questionable reliability for this period. However, in 2004 a new method, known as quartz hydration dating was developed at UC Irvine(f).
All the above methods have varying margins of error that are continually being reduced and no doubt will improve further. These enhancements together with new exciting dating methods that can be expected to emerge, will undoubtedly have a profound influence on our understanding of prehistory. Consider how improvements in DNA analysis have enabled the solving of crimes years after cases had gone ‘cold’.
More cautionary offerings(a)(c) came from the catastrophist website, thunderbolts.info., in which events involving influences outside our planet might affect the assumptions upon which some of our radiometrics are based. Since these events are not frequent occurrences we do not, as yet, have enough data to develop more reliable calibration charts.
In May 2012, the journal Nature, Ewen Callaway has an article(b) which further highlights potential weaknesses that may be encountered with radiocarbon dating.
The fascinating CAIS website offers a good overview(e) of the range of sophisticated dating techniques available today. We can reasonably expect it to expand.
A July 2015 article(g) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. has highlighted a new threat that the burning of fossil fuels has introduced into the reliability of radiocarbon dating.
“As carbon-14 decays over time the fraction will decrease so that’s how we use it for dating,” the paper’s author Dr Heather Graven told BBC News.
“But we can also change this ratio of radioactive carbon to total carbon, if we are adding non-radioactive carbon and that’s what’s happening with fossil fuels, we get this dilution effect.”
“At current rates of emissions increase”, according to the research, “a new piece of clothing in 2050 would have the same carbon date as a robe worn by William the Conqueror 1,000 years earlier.”
The latest dating method, proposed by Michael Dee and Benjamin Pope(h) combines dendrochronology with radiocarbon dating and is designed to identify specific years based on spikes in the carbon14 found in specific growth rings, caused by energy discharges during solar storms. Dee and Pope have called this new science ‘astrochronology’ and anticipate that its application will tie down the so-called ‘floating chronologies’ of ancient Egypt and elsewhere.
Glozel is a village about 20km from Vichy in the centre of France. In 1924 a seventeen-year-old boy, Émile Fradin (1906-2010)(b), discovered a number of artefacts including inscribed tablets with writing similar to ancient Phoenician scripts. Some of the pottery depicted animals extinct in the area for over 10,000 years. A group of academics were assembled in 1927 to decide on the authenticity of the find. The experts decided that the whole collection were forgeries. It must be remembered that at the time the Piltdown controversy was at its height leaving any reputation conscious scientist very wary.
Nearly fifty years passed until, in 1975 using a new dating method known as thermoluminescence, the antiquity of the Glozel objects was confirmed as ranging from 300 BC to 1300 AD, exonerating the then 68-year-old Émile Fradin from any suggestion of fraud.
Discoveries of similar objects have been found at other nearby sites, for example at Moulin Piat, 2.5km south, at Guerrier 3 km away on the right bank of the River Vareille (some pieces can be found at the Earth Science Museum of Villeurbanne University); at Puyraval 10 km upstream. In recent times an extensive Neolithic site with a remarkable megalithic alignment composed of over 100 stones was discovered near Glozel.
The Atlantis perspective on this is that Glozel appeared to offer evidence of ancient cultural development, including writing, in this part of Europe, far earlier than previously thought possible. The initial claims were seen as possible support for the 9600 BC date given by Solon for Atlantis.
However, it does not appear to me that it is credible that 10,000 year old inscriptions exist that are similar to Phoenician scripts. The intervening 8,000 years would have altered the shape of the characters out of all recognition just as our modern Roman script is totally different to its antecedents in the Eastern Mediterranean just three thousand years ago. The thermoluminescence tests support this view but the Glozel writing still has value as examples of ancient scripts.
Alice Gerard, a retired archaeologist from New York, has spent the last decade studying the mystery of the Glozel site and has written of her efforts to verify the authenticity of the discoveries there and dispel the initial response of scientists who dismissed it as a hoax. Her book is supported by a website(a).
The excellent Migration and Diffusion website has a paper(c) written by the American Donald B. Buchanan, Secretary of The Epigraphic Society, which offers a preliminary decipherment of the Glozel script. Paulo Stekel has built on Buchanan’s work and offers a couple of papers of his own(d)(e). A (French) site dedicated to Glozel translation attempts is also available(f).
Philip Coppens on the internet(g)(h) and later in The Lost Civilisation Enigma, reviews[1275.16] the early years of the Glozel debate in which his account reflected very badly on the professional archaeologists of the day and later. While the evidence now indicates that no fraud by Fradin was involved, there are still questions outstanding, relating to the mixed datings of the artefacts themselves.