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Prior to the discovery of radiometric dating which provided a means of absolute dating in the early 20th century, archaeologists and geologists were largely limited to the use of relative dating techniques to determine the geological events.
Though relative dating can only determine the sequential order in which a series of events occurred, not when they occur, it remains a useful technique especially in materials lacking radioactive isotopes.
The stratigraphic method, which observes the sequence of earth strata containing artifacts, makes it possible to attribute each stratum to a definite epoch. The typological method is based on the fact that the types of objects and the material from which they were made were different in various historic epochs.
Methods borrowed from the natural sciences are also used for dating objects of prehistoric epochs.
Chronology of rock art, ranging from Paleolithic to present times, is a key aspect of the archaeology of art and one of the most controversial.
In such cases, archaeologists may employ , with the older layer beneath the latest.
This technique helps the archaeologist arrange the site in a vertical temporal sequence, which may then be compared to sites of similar age or type.
It was based for decades in nonscientific methods that used stylistic analysis of imagery to establish one-way evolutionary schemes.
Application of scientific methods, also called absolute dating, started to be used in the 1980s and since then has increased more and more its significance, as judged by the large number of papers published in the last two decades on this subject (Rowe Absolute and relative dating methods have been used to establish tentative chronologies for rock art.
But absolute dating methods are not always useful; the particular circumstances to which they apply do not exist at every site.
Dating methods, such as radiocarbon dating, dendro-chronology or tree-ring dating, and potassium-argon dating, that may furnish an date for an archaeological site, are a contribution of the physical and the natural sciences.
You might ask students to picture a pile of newspapers that have been stacked every day for a week.