Chronological methods 8 radiocarbon dating
The imposing Judahite fortress of Khirbet Qeiyafa has been securely dated by pottery and radiocarbon analysis to the early tenth century B. Proponents of low Bible chronology, called minimalists, claim the transition occurred around 920 to 900 B. Proponents of a high Bible chronology put the date around 1000 to 980 B. Some scholars have asked if radiocarbon dating accuracy will help settle the question. Radioactive carbon-14 is used to analyze an organic material, such as wood, seeds, or bones, to determine a date of the material’s growth. Did they live in the archaeological period known as Iron Age I, which is archaeologically poorly documented, or in Iron Age IIa, for which more evidence is available. Faced with a date for Qeiyafa that confirms the traditional high Bible chronology, the low chronology “minimalists” now desperately argue that Qeiyafa was a Philistine fort tied to the kingdom of Gath, not a border fortress of the early Judahite state. There’s been a lot of debate around the issue of Bible chronology, which more specifically relates to the era of the reigns of David and Solomon.Is radiocarbon dating accuracy indeed more reliable to determine Bible chronology than traditional dating methods that rely on archaeological evidence that looks at strata context? The material’s period of growth might be many decades from the era in which it was used or reused, say, in building construction.
The date of the transition from the archaeological period known as Iron Age I to Iron Age IIa is a particularly hotly disputed topic, especially because the date of the transition is crucial for elucidating the history and material culture of the reigns of David and Solomon. It is generally recognized that David conquered Jerusalem in about 1000 B. Radio-carbon dating is regarded by many scholars as accurate, precise and scientific, in contrast to the old cultural-historical methods of dating archaeological strata, which the devotees of radiocarbon regard as inaccurate and intuitive.According to the so-called high chronology, the transition occurred around 1000 or 980 B. The hope of many scholars who feel that this science-based radiocarbon research will bring the debate to its longed-for solution is, in my view, difficult to adopt.The question I would like to raise is whether radiocarbon dating is really more precise, objective and reliable than the traditional way of dating when applied to the problem of the date of the transition from Iron I to Iron IIa.This question is sharpened in light of the fact that the uncertainty in the usual radiocarbon readings (plus or minus 25 years or so) may be as large as the difference in dates in the debate. Measuring the remaining carbon-14 content in “long-term” organic samples, such as wood, will provide the date of growth of the tree, rather than the date of the archaeological stratum in which the sample was found.Furthermore, wooden beams were reused in later strata, which can result in even greater differences in date.
Since these “long-term” samples may introduce the “old wood” effect, any calculation of precise absolute dates based on “long-term” samples is unreliable and may easily lead to errors of up to several decades or even more.