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  ARCHAEOLOGICAL AGES

When an archaeologist categorically states that there is no evidence for the conquest of Canaan by the Children of Israel, what does he/she mean and how do they obtain that information? The following statement was issued by one of the most eminent Israeli archaeologists, Johanan Aharoni who actually founded the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. This is his exact quote "It is still quite difficult to fix the date for the founding of the various conquest settlements. The widely accepted date, the beginning of the twelfth century, is influenced by the identification of the Israelite period with the Iron Age and has no archaeological basis." The Archaeology of the Land of Israel Archeo

In that one sentence, we shall see all the problems that surround Biblical Archaeology and how so many false assumptions can lead to so many erroneous conclusions. As the computer experts so wisely say, "Garbage in, garbage out." On the one hand, he states that there is a widely accepted date for the conquest of the land by the children of Israel, on the other he states there is no evidence for that conquest. The obvious question, therefore, is why should it be so widely accepted? He then identifies that conquest with the beginning of the Iron Age, and it is this classification which we will try to understand in this introduction.

We have all heard of the stone, bronze and iron ages, but how many of us, including professional archaeologists, understand where and when that classification was established, and more importantly, how the dates correlating to these classifications were arrived at.

It was the Scandinavians, in the early part of the nineteenth century, who first divided the history of the ancient world into three main divisions: stone, bronze, and iron. The founder of what was to become the National Museum of Copenhagen, Christian J Thomsen (1780-1865), first published his classification in 1836 in his "Guide to Scandinavian Antiquities".

His immediate successor, J. J. A. Worsaae (1821-1885), further refined the system by sub-dividing each of the ages, two for the Stone Age, two for the Bronze Age and three for the Iron Age. As the century progressed, more and more refinement was established, and towards the end of the century, the Montelius system, named after the Swede G. G. Montelius (1843- 1921) was generally recognized. He established that the Scandinavian Bronze Age could be divided into six divisions and the dating established by using the objects found in a closed deposit (either a tomb or a hoard ) of a fixed date, as a base standard. A comparative dating system could then be established for those sites which were not obviously dated by noting such things as technological advances, changes of shape and decorations of an object or their geographical distribution.

Then came the link that caused all the trouble. The great Egyptologist, Sir William Flinders Petrie, linked Egyptian chronology with the mainland of Europe via Greece and Asia Minor (Anatolia - present day Turkey). He did this by organizing and classifying pottery types for the complete time span of the Pharaonic age. He was thus able to date a stratum anywhere in the Near East and Southern Europe by comparing the pottery type found in that stratum with his classification. It was this system that enabled Montelius between 1889-1891 to suggest dates for the European Bronze Ages. I cannot stress how important that chain of events is to the understanding or rather the misunderstanding of how archaeologists date their findings. When excavating a site, an archaeologist will find a sherd (a piece of pottery) which will enable him to state with reasonable certainty that it was from say, the Middle Bronze Age (MB). He may even be able to pin it down to any one of the three sub-divisions of that category MBI, MBIIA or MBIIB. He will know automatically from his college days the dates for those sub-divisions so that he can immediately put an approximate date on his find. He might be even luckier and find some dateable object like a scarab from Egypt or even an inscription. The major problem with excavations in the Bible Lands is that there are very, very few inscriptions, and most of the objects which are datable are Egyptian.

Whichever way an archaeologist looks at it therefore, he/she has to rely on Egyptian dates for the dating of their own finds. For such total reliance, we would expect that the Egyptian chronology and dating system is very secure indeed for it to carry the burden of all other dating on its shoulders. Next week, we shall discover that, far from being secure, it too was based on many misconceptions, plain error and is no foundation at all.

Last week, we sent you a chart with the old chronology detailed in 52/53 year periods. We will explain those subdivisions at a later date, but for now, we will attach the most up-to-date dating classifications for the Bronze and Iron Ages of the Bible Lands, which is essentially the period of the Tanakh.

The first question of course to ask is why there is a division between one time period and the next. How does one know when one period ends and another begin. In fact the science of stratigraphy is essentially the science of discontinuity. Some ages were brought to an end by massive catastrophes which were widespread throughout the Near East.

Thus the great French archaeologist, Claude Schaeffer (b.1898), found destruction layers widespread between the following periods. All conventional dates.

 

    Between Early Bronze II (approx. 2600 BC) and Early Bronze III

    End of the Early Bronze Age (approx. 2300 BC )

    End of the Middle Bronze Age (approx. 1750 BC) [ more of a hiatus than a destruction.]

    Between Late Bronze II(A) (approx. 1300 BC) and Late Bronze III (IIB)

    End of Late Bronze Age (approx. 1200 BC)

     

By definition, there has to be some discontinuity between one sub-age and another, one stratum and the next for there to be any classification division. At another time, we will explore what might have caused such discontinuities at what appear to be regular intervals.

We have to stress again and again that ALL those dates are based on the Egyptian dates and virtually no other. When there is a controversy as to dating it is usually because there is an archaeological date which is based on the Egyptian chronology and some link to Mesopotamia which has its own fixed chronology.

Some of the greatest debates on the dating of sites in the Bible Lands have been between two groups of archaeologists, the one side using the archaeological dating system we have described above and the other identifying objects on the site which have either Babylonian or Assyrian links.

Of course, if both sets of chronology were correct, there would have been no controversies. That there were debates is, in fact, the proof that one or the other is in error. We will look at some of these great debates in future sessions.

We hope we have shown you that all dating, and therefore, all conclusions regarding the sites in the Bible lands are based on Egyptian dating. Next week, we will show how these foundations are in fact quicksand, and are based on no firm knowledge whatsoever.

Any Questions?

 



Bibliography
  1. The Archaeology of the Land of Israel (ISBN: 0664213847)
  2. The Cambridge Ancient History: Prolegomena and Prehistory, Vol I/PartI. by I.E.S. Edwards, C. J.  Gadd,  N .G .L.  Hammond (ISBN: 0521070511)
  3. Chronologies in Old World Archaeology. by Robert W. Ehrich (ISBN: 0226194477)
  4. Larousse Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Gilbert Charles-Picard (ISBN: 0600754512)
  5. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land by Ephraim Stern Ayelet Lewinson-Gilboa, Joseph Aviram (ISBN: 0132762889)

 




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