Friday, August 24, 2018

C-14 dating, Thera, and (not so much) the Exodus

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: New carbon-dating tool could pinpoint ancient eruption, gauge if tied to Exodus. Calibration technique aims to show exactly when Thera erupted on Santorini, some 4,000 years ago. Volcanic blast has been linked to rise and fall of civilizations, even the Plagues (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel). This is quite a good article on exciting new developments in Carbon-14 dating technology which could offer refinements to our chronology of the ancient world. It's a pity that some editor gave it a clickbait headline about a fanciful connection to the Exodus. The core of the story is here:
One of the ongoing problems in dating the Thera eruption is that the timings derived from radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence do not currently match up: The radiocarbon testing of contemporary organic material consistently results in a date of the late 17th century BCE. However, when archaeological evidence is also taken into account, two schools of thought are formed — a “high” or “low” chronology — which place the blast date about 100-150 years apart, from 1650-1500 BCE.

Now Pearson proposes that the calibration curve may be shifted to an annual resolution to resolve the discrepancy.

“We can use the annual precision of tree rings in combination with carbon-14 to underpin some big questions in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations,” said Pearson. “We can look at the tree rings as a timeline and connect with people that lived in the past, and I think that gives us more of a sense of who we are, but also a sense of where we’re going and perhaps ways to deal with some of the issues that we might collectively face.”
Dr. Pearson is working on refining the C-14 calibration from blocks of five or ten years down to a one-year resolution. And one of the events she is studying is the volcanic eruption at Thera. The Thera event is a real thing, for which we have an abundance of evidence. It is worthwhile to try to find out exactly when it happened. But it is controversial among biblical scholars whether the Exodus happened at all. Certainly the biblical account is a collection of late legends that may or may not preserve some memories of some much earlier event.

This article fully reflects that perspective and handles it with proper nuance. It is worth your time to read, especially for the information on the developments in C-14 technology.

Dr. Pearson is also appropriately cautious:
Asked whether she sees her study as having implications on the dating of the roots of the biblical Exodus story, Pearson questioned her qualifications to answer. In an email she wrote, “All I can say is that continued work to improve chronological frameworks is essential for the study of past civilizations!”
Some recent posts on current work on carbon dating are here (on Dr. Pearson's work), here, and here (on the work of Professor Stuart Manning, also mentioned in this article).

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