Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How far does reliable counting of the years reach into the past:

  1. with the help of dating methods?
  2. using only primary sources?
share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted
  1. Some astronomical events, viz. eclipses, can be reliably predicted to the day. I think they are the best method to identify a date exactly. This webpage provides some insight on the topic. It is basically a list of recorded solar eclipses, where the first one would be on 22 March 2134 BCE. There is however some uncertainty about whether or not the event really happened on the same day as the eclipse or was conveniently moved for political/religious reasons. I believe human calendars go as much back as eclipses, but this is based on calendars matching, which is subject to errors. The topics are, unsurprisingly, related. Furthermore, dendrochronology claims to be able to go back as far as 11000 BCE. It means that we can date the felling of that particular tree exactly to the year. However I am sure we can gather more expertise on this latter topic.

  2. As for primary sources only, so far I have only identified the year 776 BC. The anchor event is the first (recorded) Olympiad, whereas the exactness of the counting is guaranteed by several sources recording the following Olympiads and using them for chronology, according to this guy-->[3].

    [3]: Chronology of the Ancient World, E. J. Bickerman, Cornell University Press, 1980

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for your answer. I am sorry that I did not put enough effort into wrting my question but I actually wanted to know how far do we get without any additional e.g. astronomical methods but using only primary sources. –  mcb Dec 31 '12 at 22:29
4  
@mcb primary sources either refer to a certain calendar or refer to astronomical or geological events. If the source refers to a calendar, then astronomical events are used to translate dates in that calendar into modern calendar. It is usually impossible to make a translation formula without using astronomy, if the calendars were not used simultaniously in one place for a time. –  Anixx Jan 2 '13 at 0:08
    
Note to self, date my journal from how long since the last eclipse. –  fredsbend Feb 27 at 20:18
add comment

According to this paper, in 2951 BC there was a massive volcanic eruption. I do not know whether even more ancient eruptions can be calculated.

share|improve this answer
2  
Does the paper explicitly state, or imply, that there is no error margin on that count. I find that very hard to believe on a count of nearly 5,000 tree rings, given that there are known historical incidences of years without a summer to produce a tree ring. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 20 at 22:25
    
For several decades, biology texts stated unequivocally that human cells had 24 chromosomal pairs. In Grade 10 I counted them and only found 23, but my Biology teacher said I had missed a pair. If I had stuck to my guns and published, I would be a world-famous biologist for correcting the count to 23. Even experts can miss the count. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 22 at 4:42
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.