Radiocarbon Dating in Archaeology-Historical and Cultural Implications of Absolute Dates

A Colloquium with Dr. Katharina Streit
Activity Date: 
Monday, Jan 22, 2018

The invention of the radiocarbon dating method by Willard Libby in the late 1940s revolutionized archaeology profoundly. For the first time, a wide range of archaeological finds and contexts could be dated independently from historical chronologies. As a consequence, several chapters of human (pre-) history had to be rewritten, now offering a more complete and accurate picture of the past. Today radiocarbon dating is a standard part of the archaeologist’s toolkit. With increasing numbers of samples as well as more refined methods and thus more accurate dates, an even higher resolution of chronology has been achieved. In the Bronze and Iron Age of the Eastern Mediterranean radiocarbon dating is discussed vis a vis established historical chronologies, often challenging the current historical narrative. The critical point is to understand the implications of chronological shifts of few decades for the interpretation of the history and patterns of cultural change of the Ancient Near East. This talk presents two case studies which are currently the focus of different research groups, and are featured in numerous conference talks, publications as well as popular media: first, the Middle-Late Bronze transition (ca. 1600 BC) and second, the beginning of the Iron Age IIA (ca. 1000 BC). The case studies highlight the profound contribution of scientific methods to historical studies and further illustrate the importance of transdisciplinary research in these fields.