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Delaware Department of Transportation

Archaeology/Historic Preservation

Hickory Bluff Project

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Issue 2: Chronology: How Old is Old?

People have lived at the Hickory Bluff site for more than 6,000 years. How do we know? How do we determine how old a site is? One way is to develop a site chronology.

The study of time is referred to as chronology. There are at least three types of chronological, or time-related information that we can gather from the excavations at Hickory Bluff. Two come from the styles of the artifacts at the site - the stone tools and pottery. The third is the result of laboratory analysis of organic material, such as wood or bone.

Hickory Bluff Chronology Graph

This chronology chart shows the length of time indicated by each of the types of information collected in the archaeological excavations. There are different time spans represented by each type of information, and together they can be used to refine our knowledge of when the Hickory Bluff site was occupied. Stone tools are the most durable artifacts found at the site. Most types of stone survive virtually unchanged for thousands of years, and so, these tools form the primary source of information about when the earliest people lived at Hickory Bluff. Pottery, on the other hand, was first made in this part of America a little more than 3,000 years ago. Pot sherds provide an additional source of information that can supplement stone tool data in later periods. In contrast to stone or pottery, organic material deteriorates very rapidly. Old material is less likely to survive than more recent material, and so, radiocarbon dates from organic debris are most useful in providing accurate information about later occupations. Organic material often has the additional advantage of providing dates in areas of the site that do no contain artifacts with characteristic or datable styles.

In the end, these different types of information together help us to determine that people have inhabited the Hickory Bluff site at various times from 4500 B.C. to A.C. 1500.

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