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Author Topic:   Research for a book - Survey of various dating methods
Dr Adequate
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Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 6 of 82 (595705)
12-10-2010 12:54 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by damoncasale
12-09-2010 9:55 PM


For instance, according to "The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes" by Richard Firestone, Allen West, and Simon Warwick-Smith, there's abundant evidence for a supernova that exploded only about 200 light years from earth around 41,000 years ago. This event caused major damage and both directly and indirectly affected life on earth, climate, etc., when the initial radiation burst hit around 41,000 years ago, again when the shock wave hit around 33,000 years ago, and finally when the debris cloud from the supernova hit the solar system around 13,000 years ago.

The trouble is that this has garnered nothing but disdain from the wider scientific community. In fact it's hard to find anyone who likes this idea except the people who thought of it.

The notion that there was a comet is tenuous enough --- and linking it to a supernova is about as speculative as blaming aliens.

There's a skeptical article here. They quote some telling comments from other scientists:

Paquay et al.: No evidence of extraterrestrial geochemical components at the Bølling-Allerød/Younger Dryas transition. ("Our study discredits the YD impact hypothesis.") Surovelle and Holliday: Non-reproducibility of Younger Dryas extraterrestrial impact results. ("We were unable to reproduce any results of the original Firestone et al. study and find no support for Younger Dryas extraterrestrial impact.") Pinter et al.: Extraterrestrial and terrestrial signatures at the onset of the Younger Dryas. ("Many of the purportedly unique markers at the YD boundary layer were found in most or all other sites and horizons analyzed, often at concentrations much higher than at the YD layer itself.") Holliday and Meltzer: Geoarchaeology of the 12.9 ka impact hypothesis. ("Sites purported to provide direct evidence of the 12.9 ka impact are not well constrained to that time. An ET impact is an unnecessary ‘solution' for an archaeological problem that does not exist.")

This is not to say that some or all of the hypothesis might not be confirmed one day, but right now it is perceived as flaky, and as such would detract from what is meant to be a serious book. Certainly if anyone wanted to criticize your writing, they could and would use it against you. ("If he'll believe that, he'll believe anything.")


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 7 of 82 (595706)
12-10-2010 1:02 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Coyote
12-10-2010 12:16 AM


Re: Radiocarbon dating
Coyote --- as you're an archaeologist, perhaps you could tell us how much use archaeologists make of radiometric dating of igneous material such as volcanic ash? Should this be on damoncasale's list? I've never heard anyone mention it, perhaps because it's always possible to use radiocarbon dating instead.

(It would also be interesting to know if anyone has used it as a check on radiometric dating --- for example, since we know the date that Pompeii was buried, this provides a method for testing radiometric techniques.)

Thanks.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 9 of 82 (595747)
12-10-2010 9:06 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 8:44 AM


I've already responded to this via PM ...

I'm fairly sure that the moderators would agree that what you sent me was on topic.

For example, attempts to date the Great Pyramid of Giza using astronomical alignments with stars have resulted in construction dates of 4370 BC and 2430 BC, to name two that I can remember offhand. (Sorry, don't have sources handy, but I read one in a magazine recently.) Unless we know beforehand what star the builders of whatever structure, menhir, or whatever meant to align it to, then this is a completely unreliable dating method.

Ah, yes, Hancock's method.

(1) Assume without proof that the builders of ancient monuments were trying to build star maps.
(2) Assume without proof that they did so correctly.
(3) Conclude that therefore they built correct star maps.
(4) Observe that they did not build star maps that are correct for any time within the last 100,000 years.
(5) Conclude that they built them more than 100,000 years ago.
(6) Observe that they wouldn't have been correct even then.
(7) Conclude that they weren't building correct star maps, so that's not a problem.

There ought to be a word for the opposite of circular reasoning.

But are there any reliable ones, even ones that only have applications to specific situations?

To a certain extent. For example many ancient historical records include observations of eclipses of the Sun. Also Chinese records note the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 19 of 82 (595767)
12-10-2010 10:41 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 9:31 AM


Umm...have you heard of the planisphere that was discovered in Mesopotamia? (Tablet K8538 in the British Museum in London.) It basically showed that ancient peoples were using constellations to represent places on Earth. So having Orion represent Egypt -- however accurately or inaccurately the pyramids were built to match the stars of Orion -- isn't exactly far-fetched.

It is just possible that they did.

But Hancock goes further. He goes: OK, let's assume (without actual evidence) that they were trying to match the stars of Orion. But they don't exactly match the stars of Orion. So the Pyramids must have been built in another era when they did exactly match the stars of Orion. Oh, but you object that even back then they didn't exactly match the stars of Orion? Oh well, no-one's perfect (thus undermining his original argument).

And he gets all that from the proposition that the builders might have been trying to imitate Orion's belt.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 21 of 82 (595772)
12-10-2010 10:52 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 9:31 AM


Nevertheless, I'm still looking for any kind of archaeo-astronomical dating methods that might possibly be used to date prehistoric artifacts and events. (Things like the eclipse observations of ancient Babylon, I already know about, but those don't really help me to understand the time period in question -- from roughly 3500 BC back to the end of the last Ice Age, and even before if it's had an impact on later human civilization.)

Yes, well, there may be no archaeo-astronomical dating methods that will help you in that respect. Just because it would be way cool if there were doesn't mean that you should leap at any flimsy ill-evidenced story that there are.

---

If you were writing a book to make people go "Gee whiz, archeo-astronomy, hoorah!", then of course you should put all this stuff in. But if you want to write a sober book about archaeology and dating methods as they pertain to our understanding of religion then you should stick strictly to what has been rigorously proved, and not drag in flaky pseudoscience.

The same goes for the other aspects of your book. You should think about this. Do you want people who know no better to think: "Gee whiz, that's amazing!", or do you want people conversant with the facts to think: "I'd never thought of it like that ... you know, he's got a point"?

'Cos you can't do both.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 27 of 82 (595788)
12-10-2010 11:58 AM
Reply to: Message 24 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 11:14 AM


What I do know is that it's now generally accepted that Stonehenge was originally a prehistoric observatory ...

No, it's the other way round.

They didn't align the megaliths in order to measure the position of the Sun at the winter solstice, how in the world would they do that? And why? --- they may have lived in the Bronze Age but they weren't stupid.

They aligned the stones according to the measurements they'd already made using things that were easier to move, such as (for example) wooden pegs and string.

Observatory, scmobservatory. Yes, they knew one or two things about astronomy. But obviously they didn't find these things out by building Stonehenge. They built Stonehenge on a plan based on knowing these things.

You might as well say that because the chancels of English churches point east, English churches are giant compasses.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 29 of 82 (595790)
12-10-2010 12:08 PM
Reply to: Message 23 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 11:04 AM


But the scientists' mention that Sumerian astronomy wasn't advanced is laughable. Astronomical knowledge and observation techniques has *declined* from roughly 3500 BC onwards. It's only gotten worse, not better.

Where did you even get that idea from?

We can see things twelve billion light years away and can measure the distance to the Moon so accurately that we can say that it's receding from the Earth at a rate of 38 millimeters per year. The Sumerians didn't even know how many planets there were and were geocentrists.

Really, how could they be better? We have the Hubble Space Telescope and laser ranging. They had the naked eye and string.

Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 30 of 82 (595791)
12-10-2010 12:10 PM
Reply to: Message 28 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 12:04 PM


Why would you think that I meant to say that the ancient Britons discovered these things by building Stonehenge?

Because you called it an "observatory". Which is a place where you discover truths about astronomy.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 32 of 82 (595793)
12-10-2010 12:41 PM
Reply to: Message 31 by damoncasale
12-10-2010 12:14 PM


See one of my later posts. I wasn't referring to modern astronomy, but rather ancient astronomy. It's declined since 3500 BC onwards, at least as far as the Middle Ages, from what I've read.

You wrote: "it's only gotten worse, not better". If you meant: "It's only gotten worse up until Galileo or thereabouts, when it suddenly got much better", maybe you should have said that.

And even as to that I am doubtful. I was reading a book about ancient Babylon just last month (my interests are pointlessly eclectic) and while I should have to look a few things up to be definite, I have the impression that they were inferior to (e.g.) classical Greek civilization.

I think we're misunderstanding one another. I meant that Stonehenge was used to "observe" solstices and lunar eclipses. Why would you *reasonably* think I meant anything else, given how I've responded to your other comments in this thread?

Because you used the word "observatory".

I can observe lunar eclipses from anywhere in the right hemisphere, but that doesn't make wherever I stand an observatory.

Indeed, what would it even mean to say that people "used" Stonehenge to observe lunar eclipses? You don't need a big bunch of megaliths to do so, you need a clear sky and a lunar eclipse. People used their eyes to observe lunar eclipses.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 48 of 82 (595975)
12-11-2010 6:47 PM
Reply to: Message 45 by damoncasale
12-11-2010 2:30 PM


I'm still waiting to see if there are any other recommendations of various different dating methods that I can cover in the book. So far I've gotten:

* Radiocarbon
* Radiometric
* Potassium/argon
* Milankovitch cycles
* Astronomical dating is unreliable

But that's about it. Anything else?

(1) You should mention dendrochronology, for two reasons. (Or three --- I don't know how extensively dendrochronology is used by archaeologists as such. Coyote would know.)

(a) It is used to calibrate radiocarbon dating.

(b) The uncalibrated radiocarbon data agrees well with dendrochronology, thus providing an independent check.

(2) Varves. These would not be of any use to archaeologists directly unless someone dropped an artifact in a proglacial lake. However, because they contain organic matter, they can be used as an independent check on radiometric dating.

(3) Ice cores. Again, there is little direct use for these in archaeology. However, where layers of snow are deposited annually, the thickness of the annual layers vary with temperature just like the thickness of tree-rings, providing an independent check on dendrochronology.

(4) Racemization dating. This doesn't actually work except in very specific circumstances none of which are likely to be present in an archaeological dig. However, it may be useful for your didactic purpose of showing things that don't work as a contrast to things that do.

(5) Fluoride dating. I don't know much about this, but I do recall that it was the first clue that something was wrong with "Piltdown Man". It might be worth looking into.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 49 of 82 (595976)
12-11-2010 6:52 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by Coragyps
12-10-2010 9:15 AM


Re: Radiocarbon dating
Exactly that has been done with potassium/argon (or argon/argon?) dating on ash from Pompeii - and they came out correct on the date. I have the paper at home, and can look up the citation if anyone wants it.

Thank you, I should be most grateful.

I shall shortly have to write my own survey of dating methods, and it would be nice to have some data like that.

---

This leaves my other question for Coyote --- do archaeologists ever use igneous rocks for dating purposes?


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 50 of 82 (595980)
12-11-2010 8:26 PM
Reply to: Message 47 by damoncasale
12-11-2010 6:04 PM


Sidebar: Babylonian "Moral Relativism"
As far as the writers of Genesis knowing about the ice age, no, they concerned themselves with mainly Sumer and its moral relativism (mainly espoused through the worship of the goddess Inanna, equivalent to the Babylonian Ishtar).

Worship of a goddess does not a moral relativist make.

Take a look, for example, at the language used in the epilogue of the stele of Hammurabi (you should read the prologue as well, but as it's all very similar, I'll just quote the epilogue). NB: the paragraph breaks are mine, otherwise I have not altered the text as found here.

Laws of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land.

Hammurabi, the protecting king am I. I have not withdrawn myself from the men, whom Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Marduk gave to me, I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place. I expounded all great difficulties, I made the light shine upon them. With the mighty weapons which Zamama and Ishtar entrusted to me, with the keen vision with which Ea endowed me, with the wisdom that Marduk gave me, I have uprooted the enemy above and below (in north and south), subdued the earth, brought prosperity to the land, guaranteed security to the inhabitants in their homes; a disturber was not permitted.

The great gods have called me, I am the salvation-bearing shepherd, whose staff is straight, the good shadow that is spread over my city; on my breast I cherish the inhabitants of the land of Sumer and Akkad; in my shelter I have let them repose in peace; in my deep wisdom have I enclosed them. That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans, I have in Babylon the city where Anu and Bel raise high their head, in E-Sagil, the Temple, whose foundations stand firm as heaven and earth, in order to bespeak justice in the land, to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries, set up these my precious words, written upon my memorial stone, before the image of me, as king of righteousness.

The king who ruleth among the kings of the cities am I. My words are well considered; there is no wisdom like unto mine. By the command of Shamash, the great judge of heaven and earth, let righteousness go forth in the land: by the order of Marduk, my lord, let no destruction befall my monument. In E-Sagil, which I love, let my name be ever repeated; let the oppressed, who has a case at law, come and stand before this my image as king of righteousness; let him read the inscription, and understand my precious words: the inscription will explain his case to him; he will find out what is just, and his heart will be glad, so that he will say: "Hammurabi is a ruler, who is as a father to his subjects, who holds the words of Marduk in reverence, who has achieved conquest for Marduk over the north and south, who rejoices the heart of Marduk, his lord, who has bestowed benefits for ever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land."

When he reads the record, let him pray with full heart to Marduk, my lord, and Zarpanit, my lady; and then shall the protecting deities and the gods, who frequent E-Sagil, graciously grant the desires daily presented before Marduk, my lord, and Zarpanit, my lady.

In future time, through all coming generations, let the king, who may be in the land, observe the words of righteousness which I have written on my monument; let him not alter the law of the land which I have given, the edicts which I have enacted; my monument let him not mar. If such a ruler have wisdom, and be able to keep his land in order, he shall observe the words which I have written in this inscription; the rule, statute, and law of the land which I have given; the decisions which I have made will this inscription show him; let him rule his subjects accordingly, speak justice to them, give right decisions, root out the miscreants and criminals from this land, and grant prosperity to his subjects.

Hammurabi, the king of righteousness, on whom Shamash has conferred right (or law) am I. My words are well considered; my deeds are not equaled; to bring low those that were high; to humble the proud, to expel insolence.

If a succeeding ruler considers my words, which I have written in this my inscription, if he do not annul my law, nor corrupt my words, nor change my monument, then may Shamash lengthen that king's reign, as he has that of me, the king of righteousness, that he may reign in righteousness over his subjects. If this ruler do not esteem my words, which I have written in my inscription, if he despise my curses, and fear not the curse of God, if he destroy the law which I have given, corrupt my words, change my monument, efface my name, write his name there, or on account of the curses commission another so to do, that man, whether king or ruler, patesi, or commoner, no matter what he be, may the great God (Anu), the Father of the gods, who has ordered my rule, withdraw from him the glory of royalty, break his scepter, curse his destiny.

Now, we can find in this, implicitly and explicitly, a view which is very far from moral relativism. Hammurabi thinks that:

* He has been installed as king and therefore lawgiver by the will of the gods.

* Shamash, "the great judge of heaven and earth" has "conferred right (or law)" on him.

* Hence Hamurabi describes his laws not as useful or convenient or practical, but as "righteous" and "pious".

* He asserts that his "wisdom" is superior to that of others ("there is no wisdom like unto mine") and therefore says that by reading his stele a man can "find out what is just". This is hardly the language of a moral relativist.

* He intends the laws that he has made to stand for all time. The only concession he makes to the possibility that the mores of the Babylonians might change is to call down the curse of the gods on anyone who thinks of trying it.

In short, he has the same essential theory of the nature of morality as did the ancient Hebrews. Morality is known to the gods (Shamash for the Babylonians, Yahweh for the Jews) was revealed by the gods to wise lawgivers (Hammurabi for the Babylonians, Moses for the Jews) and through them to their countrymen generally; and was unchanging and objectively correct.

The beef of the Hebrews with the Babylonians was that they had different gods and a different moral code; but not that the Babylonians thought that it was OK for different people to have different gods and moral codes, 'cos they didn't.

(There was also, of course, the fact that the Babylonians oppressed the heck out of the Jews. Their quarrel was not merely on an abstract plane over a question of principle.)


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 Message 47 by damoncasale, posted 12-11-2010 6:04 PM damoncasale has responded

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 Message 57 by damoncasale, posted 12-12-2010 8:11 AM Dr Adequate has responded

  
Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 53 of 82 (595986)
12-11-2010 8:49 PM
Reply to: Message 51 by Coragyps
12-11-2010 8:35 PM


Re: Radiocarbon dating
Thank you.

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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 59 of 82 (596059)
12-12-2010 4:43 PM
Reply to: Message 57 by damoncasale
12-12-2010 8:11 AM


Re: Sidebar: Babylonian "Moral Relativism"
Unfortunately, I don't have the reference handy for this, but I remember reading that Inanna was described in one of the ancient literary cycles as doing whatever she wished, whether it be good or evil. I assumed that by association, her worshippers would do the same.

I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord that do all these things. --- Isaiah 45:7

I recently packed away some of my books as I'm looking for a new place to live, and I accidentally packed that one without remembering that I needed it for the book. Oops. As soon as I can dig that back out, I'll post the reference.

I searched the corpus of Sumerian literature for references to Inana. Isn't the Internet wonderful?

True, but note that this is long after the biblical Garden of Eden existed.

But surely if Genesis contains such allegorical meanings as you suppose, they relate to the time when Genesis was written, not to the time when it was set.


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Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16111
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 63 of 82 (596135)
12-13-2010 12:29 PM
Reply to: Message 60 by damoncasale
12-12-2010 11:17 PM


Re: Sidebar: Babylonian "Moral Relativism"
To sum up, though, just as later parts of the bible use a polemical approach to describe ethically distasteful practices of the surrounding nations, I propose that Genesis 1-3 is simply doing the same thing, using a different literary style than what is used later on in the bible, but one common to the ancient Near East at that time.

But what was morally distasteful to the Jews in Babylonian practices is not best described by the phrase "moral relativism". Unless you have evidence to the contrary, it seems that the Babylonians, like other primitive peoples, believed in the objective correctness and superiority of their own religion, customs, moral standards, and taboos.


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