Chronological frameworks, material cultures and dating

As much archaeological work involves the comparison of assemblages or individual artefacts, relative dating of material culture is essential. Whether the analyst intends to discuss the development of something (eg, artefact or phenomenon) into something else (diachronous comparison), or differences between artefacts/phenomena in two adjacent geographical areas (synchronous comparison), it is crucial to be able to determine whether the compared artefacts/phenomena either are or are not contemporary.

If it is not possible to provide absolute (eg, radiocarbon) dates for the research objects or their contexts, relative dates must be provided by other means. In lithic research, this usually means identifying diagnostic typo-technological attributes or raw materials. To allow these elements to be used in this way, it is necessary within specific geographical areas to set up detailed chronological frameworks, composed of sequences of material cultures (periodization). Each material culture is then defined by a set of morphological tool types and sub-types, a specific operational schema, and specific raw material preferences. Some typo-technological and raw material attributes are usually unique to a material culture, and may be used to date it in relative terms.

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Chronological framework for the Scottish Upper Palaeolithic (based on the presently available evidence) (Ballin et al. 2010).

Chronological framework for the Scottish Upper Palaeolithic
(based on the presently available evidence) (Ballin et al. 2010).

As much of prehistory is characterized by continuity, with development rarely occurring in steps or jumps, it has been common over the last few decades to partly or completely abandon periodization. However, the recent aversion to periodization is probably largely based on the misunderstanding that periodization is an aim in itself (ie, that it deals with the characterization of culture as such), where it is only a tool for the relative dating of assemblages or artefacts, which in turn allows the archaeologist to discuss the bigger, more interesting questions.

My production includes papers on typology, technological attribute analysis and raw material analysis, as well as papers discussing specific material cultures.

Proposal for chronological framework for the Stone Age of southern Norway, based on existing chronologies for eastern and western Norway (Ballin 2004).

Proposal for chronological framework for the Stone Age of southern Norway,
based on existing chronologies for eastern and western Norway (Ballin 2004).