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To improve on that, Dee and his colleagues used a computerised statistical approach known as Bayesian modelling.
They compiled radiocarbon dates from nearly 200 artefacts, including hair, plants and bone, from known reigns or periods during Egypt’s First Dynasty and the Predynastic period before it.
By calculating the ratios of rubidium-87 to strontium-86, and strontium-86 to strontium-87, a graph called an isochron is created, which scientists can then use to determine the age of a sample.
For the First Dynasty, the estimated reign lengths match the human lifespan, which was around 30 to 40 years at the time.
This suggests that Egypt was ruled by individual kings right from the start, rather than by clans, as some experts have suggested.
They entered these into a computer model to estimate the most likely dates of transition between the different periods.
It is illegal to remove archaeological samples from Egypt, so the researchers dated items from museum collections in Europe and North America, as well as freshly excavated seed samples from Tell es-Sakan on the Gaza Strip, which was an outpost of ancient Egypt.
During the Predynastic period, progress “becomes faster and faster, so much happens”, he says.
“In the last two centuries, around 3200 BC, it is breathtaking.” Dee hopes that archaeologists will now reappraise the period, to start to understand what triggered such dramatic changes.
Much of our understanding of the ancient history of our planet comes from radioisotope dating, a process where scientists calculate the amount of certain isotopes in a geological sample to determine how old it is.
But according to new research out of North Carolina State University, a flaw in this widely-used technique may be skewing the results so samples seem much older than they really are.
"There's not a simple equation that can be applied to every circumstance," says Hayes.
"Researchers will need to evaluate samples individually, then apply the relevant physics accordingly.
The researchers used carbon dating to estimate with 68 per cent probability that the first ruler, King Aha, took to the throne between 31 BC, and died between 30 BC.