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Using local pine trees, Douglass built a 450 year record of the tree ring variability.
Clark Wissler, an anthropologist researching Native American groups in the Southwest, recognized the potential for such dating, and brought Douglass subfossil wood from puebloan ruins.
Determining calendar rates using dendrochronology is a matter of matching known patterns of light and dark rings to those recorded by Douglass and his successors.
For example, JJA Worsaae used this law to prove the Three Age System.
For more information on stratigraphy and how it is used in archaeology, see the Stratigraphy glossary entry.
Many of the first efforts of archaeology grew out of historical documents--for example, Schliemann looked for Homer's Troy, and Layard went after the Biblical Ninevah--and within the context of a particular site, an object clearly associated with the site and stamped with a date or other identifying clue was perfectly useful. Outside of the context of a single site or society, a coin's date is useless.
And, outside of certain periods in our past, there simply were no chronologically dated objects, or the necessary depth and detail of history that would assist in chronologically dating civilizations.