Thus nonliterate communities can be dated by their contact with literate ones.
This technique is known as chronology of Europe in the Neolithic, Bronze, and Early Iron ages is based on cross dating with the ancient Near East.
Many material remains of man’s past have no dating problem: they may be, like coins, or most coins, self-dating, or they may be dated by man-made dates in written records.
For the prehistoric period, which now appears to stretch from 2,000,000 years ago to about 3000 , archaeological evidence is the only source of knowledge about human activities.
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Aside from cross dating, the archaeologist faced with material in a site having no literate chronological evidence of its own has two other ways of dating his material. Relative dating merely means the relation of the date of anything found to the date of other things found in its immediate neighbourhood.
As has already been described, this method also plays a part in cross dating. The archaeologist observes the accumulation of deposits in a gravel pit, a peat bog, in the construction of a barrow, or in accumulated settlements in a tell, and, like the geologists who introduced the principles of stratigraphy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he can see the succession of layers in the site and can then establish the chronology of different levels of layers relative to each other.