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Egyptologists, for example, created a relative chronology of pre-pharaonic Egypt based on increasing complexity in ceramics found at burial sites.Whenever possible, researchers use one or more absolute dating methods, which provide an age for the actual fossil or artifact.When it comes to determining the age of stuff scientists dig out of the ground, whether fossil or artifact, “there are good dates and bad dates and ugly dates,” says paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University.

Generally speaking, the more complex a poem or piece of pottery is, the more advanced it is and the later it falls in the chronology.Thermoluminescence: Silicate rocks, like quartz, are particularly good at trapping electrons.Researchers who work with prehistoric tools made from flint — a hardened form of quartz — often use thermoluminescence (TL) to tell them not the age of the rock, but of the tool.Unlike observation-based relative dating, most absolute methods require some of the find to be destroyed by heat or other means.This family of dating methods, some more than a century old, takes advantage of the environment’s natural radioactivity.

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