Chronological Methods 4 - Stratigraphy

Stratigraphy is the study of strata, or layers. Specifically, stratigraphy refers to the application of the Law of Superposition to soil and geological strata containing archaeological materials in order to determine the relative ages of layers. In addition, stratigraphy can tell us much about the processes affecting the deposition of soils, and the condition of sites and artifacts. These are called postdepositional processes, and their study is part of Middle Range Theory.

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As this example has shown you, post depositional processes, both natural and human, can result in very complex stratigraphy. Although stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition can help us determine the relative ages of occupations, one must be very alert to alterations in stratigraphy that may throw chronological reckoning off. Various phenomena, such as hole digging or mudslides, can completely reverse stratigraphy. Thus, long profiles or profiles from a number of units are necessary to avoid misinterpretation.


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