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In recent years several pioneering groups have been developing new approaches, based on chemical changes that can predictably mark time.

Until recently, most dating methods made use of nuclear decay.

In geology, radioisotope techniques have been used for over 100 years, but radiocarbon dating for archaeological time-scales began as a result of scientific advances made in the Manhattan project, during world war two.

The method was developed by US chemist Willard Libby in the late 1940s, for which he received the 1960 Nobel prize in chemistry.

Much of the information about ceramic fashions is also specific to Britain or America and those fashions weren’t necessarily popular at the same times or even at all in New Zealand (although there are some exceptions; Woods 2011).

This is especially relevant when we take into account the time it would take for new patterns and styles to not only make it to New Zealand, but become popular here, particularly when we consider the distances they had to travel.

Left to right: a plate decorated with the Asiatic Pheasants pattern, fragment of a plate decorated with the Rhine pattern, and pieces of Cable and Willow pattern bowls. century archaeological sites in Christchurch (and New Zealand) were made in England and Scotland and imported into New Zealand (mostly from Staffordshire in England).

Artefacts decorated with popular patterns like these, some of which have been used continuously for roughly 200 years (Willow), are almost impossible to date from the pattern alone (unless there are variations on the pattern or imperfections in the transfer itself), particularly in the context of post-1850 sites. As I mentioned last week, this means that when we’re figuring out a date for these artefacts, we have to take into account the time it would have taken for these objects to reach New Zealand in the first place.

Willow pattern) decorated pottery – the type we still use today. For those of us working in Christchurch, that’s not really that helpful.Unfortunately for the archaeologist working with material from the 1850s onwards (as in Christchurch), a date range of 80 to a 100 years for a site is pretty much the same as no date at all.Most of the developments in ceramic production that occurred prior to the 1820s and 1830s were to do with refining the mixture of the clay and gradually moving from cream coloured wares (left) to whiter pieces (middle).By the middle of the 19th century, almost all earthenware ceramics were white, not cream.Other distinctive types of pottery, such as pearlware (right), which used a tinted glaze to imitate Chinese porcelain, fell out of fashion in the early decades of the 19th century. Floral patterns like this Bouquet plate, found in Christchurch, with decoration in the centre of the plate as well as on the rim (or marly, as it’s known) were produced from 1784 until 1869, with a peak in popularity from 1833 to 1849 (Samford 1997). Alternatively, we can try to use changes in decoration and style to date artefacts to specific decades.

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