Back in the days when I worked at the New Chemistry Laboratory here, the building next door was the Dyson Perrins Laboratory (or DP), which was the codename for organic chemistry. When a new research lab was completed across the road, the chemists moved out, and some other departments moved in, including the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, which I always find sounds very interesting when I walk past it.
Now these guys have a paper out in today's issue of Science re. the carbon-dating of plant materials associated with specific phases Egyptian history. Here's the advance PR from Science magazine:
Nailing Down Ancient Egypt's Chronology:
For several thousands of years, ancient Egypt dominated the Mediterranean world--and scholars have busied themselves documenting the reigns of the various rulers of the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. However, although the resulting chronologies have been quite precise in a relative way, assigning absolute dates to specific events has been a contentious task. Now, a detailed radiocarbon analysis of short-lived plant remains from the region is providing scientists with a long and accurate chronology of ancient Egypt that agrees with most previous estimates but also imposes some historic revisions. Christopher Bronk Ramsey and a team of international researchers collected radiocarbon measurements from 211 various plants, obtained from museum collections in the form of seeds, baskets, textiles, plant stems, and fruits, that were directly associated with particular reigns of ancient Egyptian kings. The researchers then combined this radiocarbon data with historical information abou t the order and length of each king's reign to make a complete chronology of ancient Egyptian dynasties. Their new chronology indicates that some events occurred earlier than predicted. It suggests, for example, that the reign of Djoser in the Old Kingdom actually started between 2691 and 2625 B.C. and that the New Kingdom began between 1570 and 1544 B.C. Bronk Ramsey and his colleagues found some discrepancies in the radiocarbon levels of the Nile Valley but suggest that it is due to ancient Egypt's unusual growing season, which is concentrated in the winter months.
"Radiocarbon-Based Chronology for Dynastic Egypt,"
C. Bronk Ramsey et al., Science 2010, 328, 1554.
Here's the old DP reflected in the new chemistry research building:
and here's the plaque commemorating its history: