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A Single Historical Continuum


In the middle of the twentieth century our understanding of the past underwent a quiet revolution whose full implications have yet to be integrated into modern historical scholarship. At the heart of the revolution were new chronometric techniques, new ways of dating past events. For the first time, these techniques allowed the construction of reliable chronologies extending back before the first written documents, before even the appearance of the first humans, back to the early days of our planet and even to the birth of the Universe as a whole. This expanded timeline provided the foundation for the “Single Historical Continuum” of my title. This paper describes the chronometric revolution and the creation of a single historical continuum. It then discusses some of the implications of these changes for our understanding of “history.” I am a historian by training so that, despite an enduring amateur interest in the sciences, my account of the chronometric revolution reflects the somewhat intuitive pattern-seeking methodologies of my discipline, rather than the often more rigorous, and more mathematical methods of the natural sciences. I will argue that the chronometric revolution requires a fundamental re-thinking of what we understand by “history.”

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