A three-year study of hundreds of artefacts looks set to settle several long-standing debates about Egypt’s ancient dynasties.
The study, which appears in today’s issue of Science1, is the first to use high-precision measurements of radioactive carbon isotopes to produce a detailed timeline for the reigns of Egyptian pharaohs from about 2650 BC to 1100 BC.
“It is a very, very important finding,” says Hendrik Bruins, an archaeologist and geoscientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, who was not associated with the work. “For the first time, radiocarbon dating more or less corroborates the essence of the Egyptian historical chronology.”
Led by Christopher Bronk Ramsey, a physicist and mathematician at the University of Oxford, UK, the researchers use the well-established technique of measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 in ancient artefacts. Plants absorb carbon-14 as they grow, and the radioisotope decays naturally over time after they die. Measuring carbon-14 levels in artefacts made of organic material allows archaeologists to determine their age.
Archaeologists throughout the world use radiocarbon dating, but surprisingly, no high-precision dating work had been done on Egyptian artefacts before. Egypt has strict bans on the export of archaeological items, and the equipment needed for a high-quality study did not exist in Egypt, says Bronk Ramsey.
To circumvent this problem, Bronk Ramsey and his team collected 211 samples from museums in Europe and the United States. To ensure that the samples were made from organic material that grew at the same time that the artefact was made, they avoided artefacts made of wood and bone, relying instead on baskets, textiles and foods…………….