A method for dating burnt archaeological remains based on the snapshots they preserve of the Earth’s shifting magnetic field has helped verify a number of Biblical narratives. This is the conclusion of a study by a team who reconstructed the direction and intensity of the field as recorded in 21 “destruction layers” at 17 archaeological sites across Israel. By taking past geomagnetic field readings from sites whose destruction is precisely dated in historical records, the team were able to associate magnetic shifts with a reliable chronology. This allowed them to confirm, for example, that the destruction of Gath — one of the five royal cities of the Philistines — by Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus in 830 BC was contemporaneous with the razing of Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit and Horvat Tevet, suggesting they were likely all torn down as part of the same military campaign. In contrast, however, the study refuted the popular hypothesis that Hazael was also responsible for destruction at the town of Tel Beth-Shean, with the archaeomagnetic date instead suggesting this occurred some 70–100 years earlier, potentially during the campaign of the 22nd Dynasty ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq I. Shoshenq I’s military campaign is described in both the Hebrew Bible and an inscription on the wall of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt — and detail Beth-Shean as one of his conquests.
Paper author and geophysicist Professor Ron Shaar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said: “The geomagnetic field is generated by Earth’s outer core, at a depth of 2,900 kilometres [1,802 miles], by currents of liquid iron.
“Due to the chaotic motion of this iron, the magnetic field changes over time.
“Until recently, scientists believed that it remains quite stable for decades, but archaeomagnetic research has contradicted this assumption by revealing some extreme and unpredictable changes in antiquity.
“Our location here in Israel is uniquely conductive to archaeomagnetic research, due to an abundance of well-dated archaeological findings.
“Over the past decade we have reconstructed magnetic fields recorded by hundreds of archaeological items.
“By combining this dataset with the data from [Hebrew University PhD student Yoav Vaknin’s] investigation of historical destruction layers, we were able to form a continuous variation curve showing rapid, sharp changes in the geomagnetic field.
“This is wonderful news, both for archaeologists who can now use geomagnetic data to determine the age of ancient material and for geophysicists studying the Earth’s core.”
Fellow paper author and archaeologist Professor Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University said: “The new dating tool is unique because it is based on geomagnetic data from sites whose exact destruction dates are known from historical sources.
“By combining precise historical information with advanced, comprehensive archaeological research, we were able to base the magnetic method on reliably anchored chronology.”
Mr Vaknin added: “Based on the similarity or difference in intensity and direction of the magnetic field, we can either corroborate or disprove hypotheses claiming that specific sites were burned during the same military campaign.
“Moreover, we have constructed a variation curve of field intensity over time, which can serve as a scientific dating tool, similar to the radiocarbon dating method.”
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Prof Ben-Yosef continued: “Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah’s ultimate demise.
“Several decades after they had destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, sites in the Negev — which had survived the Babylonian campaign — were destroyed, probably by the Edomites, who took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem.
“This betrayal and participation in the destruction of the surviving cities may explain why the Hebrew Bible expresses so much hatred for the Edomites — for example, in the prophecy of Obadiah.”
(In this text, the prophet Obadiah, said that Yaweh would wipe out the house of Esau — the founding family of Edom — and that the Edomites would cease to exist as a people and that their land would be possessed by Egypt.)
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers noted that a separate paper detailing the scientific principles underlying the novel archaeomagnetic dating method is also in preparation.