Since the turn of the century, several methods to measure elapsed time have been discovered.
The first and simplest method of absolute dating is using objects with dates inscribed on them, such as coins, or objects associated with historical events or documents.
There are dendrochronological records for Europe and the Aegean, and the International Tree Ring Database has contributions from 21 different countries.
The main drawback to dendrochronology is its reliance on the existence of relatively long-lived vegetation with annual growth rings.
And, outside of certain periods in our past, there simply were no chronologically dated objects, or the necessary depth and detail of history that would assist in chronologically dating civilizations.
Without those, the archaeologists were in the dark as to the age of various societies. The use of tree ring data to determine chronological dates, dendrochronology, was first developed in the American southwest by astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass.
Many of the first efforts of archaeology grew out of historical documents--for example, Schliemann looked for Homer's Troy, and Layard went after the Biblical Ninevah--and within the context of a particular site, an object clearly associated with the site and stamped with a date or other identifying clue was perfectly useful. Outside of the context of a single site or society, a coin's date is useless.
For example, JJA Worsaae used this law to prove the Three Age System.
Seriation, on the other hand, was a stroke of genius.
The scholar most associated with the rules of stratigraphy (or law of superposition) is probably the geologist Charles Lyell.
The basis for stratigraphy seems quite intuitive today, but its applications were no less than earth-shattering to archaeological theory.
In 1929, they found a charred log near Show Low, Arizona, that connected the two patterns.