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.
For example, since each Roman emperor had his own face stamped on coins during his realm, and dates for emperor's realms are known from historical records, the date a coin was minted may be discerned by identifying the emperor depicted.
Seriation is thought to be the first application of statistics in archaeology. The most famous seriation study was probably Deetz and Dethlefsen's study Death's Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow, on changing styles on gravestones in New England cemeteries.
The method is still a standard for cemetery studies.
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.
In other words, artifacts found in the upper layers of a site will have been deposited more recently than those found in the lower layers.
Cross-dating of sites, comparing geologic strata at one site with another location and extrapolating the relative ages in that manner, is still an important dating strategy used today, primarily when sites are far too old for absolute dates to have much meaning.
Archaeologists use many different techniques to determine the age of a particular artifact, site, or part of a site.
Two broad categories of dating or chronometric techniques that archaeologists use are called relative and absolute dating.
Plotting several curves can allow the archaeologist to develop a relative chronology for an entire site or group of sites.
For detailed information about how seriation works, see Seriation: A Step by Step Description.
For example, JJA Worsaae used this law to prove the Three Age System.