Friday, February 4, 2011

dating exercise

I loathe lecturing on dating techniques. I bore myself before I even begin.

In an ideal world, every appropriate textbook would include a chapter on dating techniques, and explain in detail what materials can be dated, from what time periods, etc. Then, I could hold a lecture/discussion on the trickier bits, like what event one is actually dating (the death of the tree), as opposed to the event you're most interested in (the building of the house). Unfortunately, the textbooks I've chosen don't cover dating well.

This week, I put together a quick exercise for my Latin American archaeology class, just to break up all my blathering about dating. Actually, I put together two exercises, one about picking appropriate materials to date, and the other about interpreting dates once you have them. I'm just showing the second one here.

I was afraid this would be too quick and simple, but actually the students took a long time to work through the material, and they learned more from it than I was afraid they would. Before I use the exercise again, though, I'd like to refine it. It would be nice to include some deliberate misdirection, such as C14 dates that don't fit the stratigraphy, and I need to include some more types of dating. Perhaps florine dating would be appropriate? I'm open to suggestions!

Here's the exercise:

The site of Siete Colinas is found at the bend of a large river. Dr. Juan Sanchez excavated the main temple at Siete Colinas, and found the temple complex had been built and rebuilt over many successive generations. The earliest small temple, Temple 3, was buried and covered by the construction of Temple 2, which in turn was buried and covered by the construction of Temple 1. Below is a description of the dates associated with each temple.

Temple 1:
1) the main staircase up the outside of the temple was carved with a description of the king credited with building the temple. The staircase includes three dates corresponding to his birth,ascension, and death. Those dates are AD 322, AD 345, and AD 383.
2) a large monument dedicated to a military victory against a neighboring city sits in the courtyard of the temple. The inscription dates the victory to AD 315.
3)a large monument dedicated to the military defeat of a powerful rival was found on the top of the pyramid. The inscription dates the event to AD 420.

C14 dates:
1) A date of AD 500+/-40 (calibrated) from wood found in a hearth on top of the temple
2) A date of AD 350+/-50 (calibrated) from a burned beam that was part of the structural support

Other dates:
1) small fragments of obsidian blades from the top of the temple produced obsidian hydration dates of AD 520, AD 480, and AD 375.

Temple 2:
1) a mural inside the alter-house on top of the temple includes a depiction of the royal family. The dates of birth, ascension, and death for the three kings shown are:
King 1 - AD 248, AD 269, AD 300
King 2 - AD 282, AD 300, AD 325
King 3 - AD 299, AD 325, (no death date given)
2) a carved monument in the courtyard describes a spirit vision by the queen. The date of the monument is AD 337

C14 dates:
1) A date of AD 360+/-40 (calibrated) from the charred wood found in the hearth on the alter
2) a date of AD 330+/-60 (calibrated) from wood charcoal found inside the fill that supports the temple

Temple 3:
1) a carved alter shows 7 kings passing a baton of office. Each king has one date written above their head, along with their name. The oldest date is AD 116. The most recent date is AD 220.
2) a monument to a military victory was laid against the outside of the temple. The victory is dated to AD 277.
3) a burial is found inside the temple. The sarcophagous of the burial includes an inscription naming the king buried there, his birth date (AD 189), his ascension (AD 220), and his death (AD 253).

C14 dates:
1) A date of AD 270+/-60 (calibrated) was obtained from charred seeds found in a pot associated with the burial
2) A date of AD 300+/-40 (calibrated) was obtained from burned wood on the alter
3) A date of AD 210+/-60 (calibrated) was obtained from a chunk of wood charcoal in the underlying fill

Other dates:
1) one fragment of obsidian blade was dated by obsidian hydration to AD 275.

What can we reconstruct about the dates the temples were constructed, used, and abandoned?

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