Friday, June 08, 2018

More on that C-14 dating recalibration

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Upstart carbon dating study could force rewrite of Holy Land’s biblical timeline. Cornell University prof shows how archaeologists' data could be skewed by decades -- potentially disproving the narrative of David and Solomon's United Monarchy (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel). I noted the Cornell study earlier this week and suggested that the proposed variation would usually not make much of a difference for biblical Israel and the Second-Temple-era, although sometimes it might. This article discusses one of the times it might:
If the paper’s findings are borne out, the historical timeline of the Holy Land would need to be rewritten.

Through a faulty calibration scale, the study argues, organic carbon-14 evidence linking archaeological sites to the Israelite period may have been given false early dates. This new proposed calculations would cause their “biblical” ties to be much less certain.

To be precise, the study’s findings indicate a discrepancy of only a few decades — but that is just dramatic enough to dispel much C-14-based “evidence” of a potential Davidic United Monarchy.
The first author of the paper, Professor Sturt Manning, explains:
“If you only have radiocarbon but have a good set of data and a known archaeological sequence (e.g. stratified layers at an archaeological site) then you can hope to get within a few decades or so – so high-precision dating,” he writes.

And here is the big catch: “If you have nothing but a few radiocarbon dates, then you are more looking at ca. 50-100 years or so precision,” he writes.

During the particularly sensitive early Iron Age in Israel, such a broad 50- to 100-year time frame can mean the difference between one archaeological or biblical era and another.
Do read the whole article. It's early days yet and the results of the study - which are based on analysis of early-modern materials - need to be replicated and extended to earlier periods. But the results may be significant for the chronology of first-Temple Israel and the question of the historicity of the United Monarchy.

Also, note the post on this study by Brent Nongbri at the Variant Readings Blog. He flags another recent study that gave similar results for material from early-modern Egypt.

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