Radiocarbon Revolution and Dating the Iroquois Nation

As technology develops the ability to accurately date archaeological artifacts develops at a similar rate. Early on in archaeology the only reliant method of dating was relative dating. One was able to relatively date by following the basic principle that the deeper something was in the ground the older it was. One could look at the different layers of the earth and create a chronological order of artifacts based on the layers of the earth that these artifacts resided in. Following the aforementioned principle, the deeper the artifact was the older it was, and one could create a sort of time line of artifacts using this idea.

-Figure 1: Image of artifacts in different layers of the earth. Organized chronologically.

All of this changed with the introduction of radio carbon dating. Radiocarbon dating lead the wave of absolute dating methods. It now gave archaeologists a way to accurately determine the specific age of an artifact. Radiocarbon dating was first introduced in 1949 by a team of scientists lead by the American Willard Libby. They found out that an isotope of carbon (14C specifically) decays at a constant rate. Applying this idea to dating methods, they concluded that measuring the remaining 14C in an artifact, it was possible to then date this said artifact (Archaeology World 2009:1). There were many flaws with Libby’s first method of radiocarbon but nevertheless it paved the way for future improvements and developments of radiocarbon dating. Now we have a more accurate idea of the half-life of 14C and we can give an accurate estimation of how old an artifact is.

The development of radiocarbon dating opened new doors for the dating of artifacts. Specifically, here in North America there were many improvements to the preconceived timeline of events in North America’s past. Take the Iroquois Nation for example. The Iroquois are a Native American group that inhabited the areas of Ontario Canada and upstate New York. They have a deep-rooted history in America and they left many artifacts behind for archaeologists of today to study. Many of these artifacts were found, examined, and dated pre-carbon dating. Even when these artifacts were found post-carbon dating, they were often dated using methods that produced an inaccurate timeline. The Dating Iroquoia project was developed to combat this issue, “A pilot study by Birch and Manning suggested that in one part of Northern Iroquoia, the existing ceramic chronology misplaced sites in time by as many as 50-100 years” (Dating Iroquoia 2017). They’re using absolute dating methods of radiocarbon dating to provide a more accurate chronological timeline of events in the Iroquois Nation. This will produce a more accurate history while bringing awareness to the Iroquois Nation.

-Figure 2: Image of an Iroquois artifact dated using radio carbon dating.

Further Readings:


Archaeology, C. W. (2018, September 18). Radiocarbon revolution. World Archaeology. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from

Dating Iroquoia. (2017, October 11). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from

Stratigraphy and the laws of superposition – community archaeology program: Binghamton University. Community Archaeology Program – Binghamton University. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from 

1 thought on “Radiocarbon Revolution and Dating the Iroquois Nation

  1. Have you found any sources that provide insight into Haudenosaunee perspectives on archaeological dating? How has cultural knowledge of their own history contributed to archaeological interpretation?

Leave a Reply