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It is increasingly difficult for prehistorians working in the twenty-first century to conceptualise the problems experienced by their predecessors, and approaches to interpretation before the 1960s are consistently criticised.Culture history and diffusionism may - with hindsight - seem excessively preoccupied with classification and social evolution, and to have applied unsophisticated historical interpretations instead of asking fundamental questions about human behaviour.It must be made clear at the outset that typology is not, strictly speaking, a dating method, but a means of placing artefacts into some kind of order.Classification divides things up for the purposes of description, whereas typology seeks to identify and analyse changes that will allow artefacts to be placed into sequences.Carbon-14, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide.Green plants absorb the carbon dioxide, so the population of carbon-14 molecules is continually replenished until the plant dies.In relative dating, archaeologists interpret artifacts based on their positions within the (horizontal layering) of the soil.The study of stratigraphy follows the excavation axiom "last in, first out"--meaning that an archaeologist usually removes soil layers in the reverse order in which they were laid down (see Figure 1).
Although relative dating can work well in certain areas, several problems arise.
Until this century, relative dating was the only technique for identifying the age of a truly ancient object.
By examining the object's relation to layers of deposits in the area, and by comparing the object to others found at the site, archaeologists can estimate when the object arrived at the site.
In relative soil dating, archaeologists follow two general principles known as refers to the concept that all the soil below a solid, undisturbed layer dates before that layer (see Figure 3).
Relative dating of a site's stratigraphy often depends on the absolute dating of excavated materials and artifacts.