Another technique is the more widely applicable radiocarbon, or C14, dating. This depends on measuring declining levels of radioactivity in materials that absorbed carbon when living, and has revolutionised our understanding of the prehistoric past. Bone, charcoal, wood or leather can all be used, and today only tiny samples of carbon are needed to get meaningful results.
Archaeology has developed enormously over the last 200 years and today, as new and developing scientific techniques allow us a greater understanding of the past, it has become an exciting area of study. Archaeology may have started as the preserve of wealthy landowners and scientists but today it is available for everyone to study and enjoy.
'Archaeology is not just about digging - the past is all around you ...'
Although most archaeology today is practised by professionals in museums, universities, government bodies, planning departments and field archaeology units, anyone can get involved. If you find the past fascinating and have an urge to learn and discover more, then visit your local museum, or join an archaeological society to find out what interesting sites are local to you, or where your nearest monuments record is.
Archaeology is not just about digging. The past is all around you - in your street, your village, your town. Explore it, record it, tell others what you have found, and you are well on the way to becoming an archaeologist.
About the author
Julian Richards has been a professional archaeologist for over 30 years. He has extensive experience of working in the field, surveying and excavating prehistoric and later sites. He has written and presented many series for the BBC including Meet the Ancestors, Mapping the Town and Blood of the Vikings.