New dating approaches for the Late Iron Age of the South-East Baltic Region

Dr. Roman Shiroukhov

The subject of research is the historical archaeology of the East Baltic region, defined by the time between the Viking Age and the Baltic Crusades. The problem of the period lies in the incompatibility of the „absolute“ category of historical time and the „relative“ archaeological one. Archaeological features remain outside the “absolute” or natural science based dating, and hence of known historical processes.

The main objective of the project is to create a working chronological scheme for the period, applying techniques that have not been used for dating this archaeological material before.

The territory of research: Kaliningrad region of Russia and South-West Lithuania – the area of the historical tribes of Prussians, Scalvians and Curonians  was selected because of the highest concentration of Western Balts‘ archaeological sites, and for their morphological similarity. Archaeological sources of the Western Balts of the period yield good opportunity for dating. A combination of local and imported goods within the same cremation graves allows a comparison of the relative dating of the local goods with imports both from the West and the East. The selection of the most suitable sealed deposits for dating on the basis of typological and sociological criteria, subsequently compared with GIS and statistical sampling, enables the creation of a most accurate database of samples within the frame of relative chronology. Which is needed to obtain absolute dates by using radiocarbon analysis.

The implementation of the project is based on the application of the following methods:

  1. Geographic information system (GIS). Through the ESRI ArcGIS software selected objects will be associated with a chronological layer. Thus, the concentration, intensity, and spatial relation of such objects at selected sites will be revealed. As a result, 3D time-maps of sites are created on the basis of the relative chronology of the objects.
  2. Statistical approach. Simultaneously with the GIS-mapping process a statistic overview of the relation, amount and sequence of artefacts within the sealed deposits will be provided. Dating types of artefacts will enable deposits with the same finds from different cemeteries to be connected. Deposits will be analysed statistically in order to provide a chronological sequence of groups of features and artefacts that give the most precise relative dates.
  3. Radiocarbon AMS dating (14C). According to the parameters of spatial ordering and the dense occurrence of artefacts, a series of sealed deposits considered to provide the best relative dates are selected. Burnt bone and charcoal are used for obtaining absolute dates linked to the calibrated radiocarbon scale. 14C dates from several selected sites and objects are compared and correlated with the dates obtained by the first two methods.

Sealed archaeological deposits and finds dated with the help of the aforementioned approaches will be mutually verified and revised by each culture dataset. In theory, it would be possible to compare the processes of development of material culture, reflected by the selected archaeological objects, with written sources. In case of the successful implementation of the project the same kind of research can be applied to similar archaeological sites in the Baltic region.


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Dr. Roman Shiroukhov