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Investigating the Past
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Scientific Techniques

Scientific techniques can often benefit archaeologists in many different ways. However there are two main applications of science in archaeology:

  • Geophysical and chemical surveys

  • Absolute dating

  • Geological, taxonomical and environmental studies

In terms of surveying, archaeologists can choose between a number of different techniques which are applicable in different situations. These include resistivity, which measures the resistance in the ground to the passing of an electric current; magnetometry, which measures the fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field; phosphate survey, which measures the concentration of phosphates in the soil; and ground radar, which sends electronic pulses into the soil to determine how long they take to return.

Scientific dating techniques offer a similar range of methods. The best known is radiocarbon, or carbon-14 dating, which measures the molecular decay of a particular type of carbon which is present in all living things, and thus gauges how long the item has been around for. Dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, of timbers can tell us when trees were felled. Other, less well known techniques include thermoluminescence, potassium-argon dating, archaeomagnetic dating and obsidian hydration dating.