The scholar most associated with the rules of stratigraphy (or law of superposition) is probably the geologist Charles Lyell.The basis for stratigraphy seems quite intuitive today, but its applications were no less than earth-shattering to archaeological theory.In 1901, Douglass began investigating tree ring growth as an indicator of solar cycles.
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For example, since each Roman emperor had his own face stamped on coins during his realm, and dates for emperor's realms are known from historical records, the date a coin was minted may be discerned by identifying the emperor depicted.
Many of the first efforts of archaeology grew out of historical documents--for example, Schliemann looked for Homer's Troy, and Layard went after the Biblical Ninevah--and within the context of a particular site, an object clearly associated with the site and stamped with a date or other identifying clue was perfectly useful. Outside of the context of a single site or society, a coin's date is useless.
Since the turn of the century, several methods to measure elapsed time have been discovered.
The first and simplest method of absolute dating is using objects with dates inscribed on them, such as coins, or objects associated with historical events or documents.
In other words, artifacts found in the upper layers of a site will have been deposited more recently than those found in the lower layers.