Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – April 2020

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This month we saw the impact the COVID-19 coronavirus is having on the world of biblical archaeology, as well as two exciting reports about technological advances that will impact excavations.

3. COVID-19 Leads to Cancellations in Biblical Archaeology

The Iron Age city gates of Tel Gezer. Photo: Mboesch / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus are being felt within the world of biblical archaeology. Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary recently announced that they will be shutting down their archaeology program due to budgetary restrictions.This is partly in response to COVID-19 and partly as a result of an “institutional reset” in its mission. Five professors have been let go and 25 graduate students are left without a program to finish. SWBTS recently finished a decade of excavations at Gezer and its unclear how this decision affects the publication of their final excavation report. COVID-19 has also led to the cancellation of planned excavations in Israel, including the dig at Tel Dan by Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, directed by Shimon Gibson. Both plan to resume excavations in 2021. ABR’s dig at Shiloh may also be affected. Scott Stripling, ABR’s Director of Excavations, is monitoring the situation. He says, ““Right now, it is looking like we will have a postponed and shortened dig season—if at all.”



2. New Study Questions C14 Calibration Curve

Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s burial mask. Photo: Mark Fischer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

A new study published in a recent issue of the journal, Science Advances, questions the use of a single calibration curve for the entire Northern Hemisphere in Carbon-14 dating.  The authors document small, but substantive regional offsets, partly from growing seasons, in the same-year radiocarbon levels.  By comparing data from northern Europe and the Mediterranean, they discovered small, but critical periods of variation in the Mediterranean carbon-14 levels.  The authors believe their recalibrated data impacts the dating of Tutankhamen’s tomb, as well as the volcanic eruption on Santorini, which they date to between 1600-1550 B.C.   Future studies may lead to more specific regional calibration curves within the Northern Hemisphere, and will likely result in the fine-tuning of historical dates that have been in question.



1. New Method Developed for Dating Pottery Sherds

Early Bronze Age pottery in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: Gary Lee / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a new method for dating pottery sherds, as reported in the journal Nature. The team was able to isolate individual fat compounds from meat or milk that had been cooked in pottery vessels in antiquity and was still detectable within the pores of the cooking pots. Using high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and mass spectrometry technologies, the researchers were able to obtain fatty acids that were pure enough to date by carbon-14. They tested fat extracts from ancient pottery which had already been precisely dated using conventional means at sites in Britain, Europe, and Africa in order to determine that their new method was accurate. While ceramic typology will continue to be a primary method for dating pottery, the team from Bristol believe their new method of dating will provide another method to securely and accurately date sherds unearthed in excavations.



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