Stratigraphy is the oldest of the relative dating methods that archaeologists use to date things.Stratigraphy is based on the law of superposition--like a layer cake, the lowest layers must have been formed first.It was based for decades in nonscientific methods that used stylistic analysis of imagery to establish one-way evolutionary schemes.
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Seriation, on the other hand, was a stroke of genius.
First used, and likely invented by archaeologist Sir William Flinders-Petrie in 1899, seriation (or sequence dating) is based on the idea that artifacts change over time.
However, historical archaeology has tended to de-emphasize archaeometric analyses because of the availability of a documentary record.
Absolute dating methods that rely on specialized laboratory analyses such as dendrochronology, radiocarbon, and luminescence measurements are available to historical archaeologists.
For example, JJA Worsaae used this law to prove the Three Age System.
For more information on stratigraphy and how it is used in archaeology, see the Stratigraphy glossary entry.
The scholar most associated with the rules of stratigraphy (or law of superposition) is probably the geologist Charles Lyell.
The basis for stratigraphy seems quite intuitive today, but its applications were no less than earth-shattering to archaeological theory.
Like tail fins on a Cadillac, artifact styles and characteristics change over time, coming into fashion, then fading in popularity. The standard graphical result of seriation is a series of "battleship curves," which are horizontal bars representing percentages plotted on a vertical axis.
Plotting several curves can allow the archaeologist to develop a relative chronology for an entire site or group of sites.
Relative dating refers to non-chronometric methodologies that produce seriation based on stylistic comparison and stratigraphic assumptions.