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Canons of Archæological Theory *

Nature volume 130, pages 462464 (24 September 1932) | Download Citation



FROM a vast and intricate subject I will select for discussion only two of the principal problems of archæology—namely, the application of a time-scale and the proof of the dissemination of a culture. First, then, as to the time-scale. A series of culture periods has been well established, so that there is a reliable system of what is called ‘relative chronology’ from the earliest Stone Age down to the time of full documentary history. But it is a very different matter when we attempt to translate these culture periods into centuries and thousands of years. We are wholly dependent for our absolute chronology upon the dates recorded or obtained by immediate inference from ancient writings or traditions. The fragmentary relics of Meso-potamian and Egyptian official chronology furnish a time-scale, liable to much uncertainty in minor details, but trustworthy in all its main lines. As archæological discovery proceeds in the coming years, we may reasonably hope to arrive at a completely graduated scale of chronological dating in actual years for every part of the ancient world after 3500 B.C. But if it is asked what means we have for establishing a chronological as well as a typological scheme behind 3500 or possibly 4000 B.C., I answer unhesitatingly that we have none, and that unless earlier written records or traditions come to light it is probable that we shall never have any.

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