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

  1. with the help of dating methods?
  2. using only primary sources?
  • What makes this a great question, whereas history.stackexchange.com/questions/15007/the-chronology-challenge-earliest-verifiable-date-of-a-historical-event was downvoted to death and closed?
    – user4139
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 0:15
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    @JonofAllTrades I think your question would be in better hands in the meta forum. My experience is that moderation is not always consistent on SE. Firstly, the moderators and the guidlines change over time, secondly, it seems that there is often a random element involved as to whether someone points out a problem concerning the question early enough, so that it shows up at the top. Once there is a seed for critique more people tend to jump on the bandwagon. I’m not versed enough to say anything in particular about the question you have linked.
    – Lenar Hoyt
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 0:54
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    @JonofAllTrades A bunch of regulars on the site hate me and downvote all my posts automatically. Also, the question I asked had a lot of detailed analysis which those people find intellectually intimidating, so that was another reason for them to downvote. Since then I have learned to dumb down my questions and gotten better results. Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 2:08

2 Answers 2

  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

  • 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.
    – Lenar Hoyt
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 22:29
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    @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
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 0:08
  • Note to self, date my journal from how long since the last eclipse.
    – user1973
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 20:18

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.

  • 4
    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. Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 22:25
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    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. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 4:42

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