|by||Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.|
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on “Dating in Archaeology.” Part II is titled “Dating in Archaeology: Challenges to Biblical Credibility.”]
Over the last few decades, archaeology has come into its own as a scientific endeavor. Gone are the romantic images of gentlemen in pith helmets carting off treasures to the museums and estates of Europe. Gone, too, is the idea that archaeologists are always on the side of the Bible believer. Modern interpretations frequently challenge biblical accounts. Further, dates generated by new techniques are often at odds with the timing of events given by Scripture.
The purpose of this first article is to discuss problems with radiocarbon and tree-ring dating (or dendrochronology), which are the two most common direct dating techniques in archaeology. Problems with relative dating by interpretation of material culture—arrowheads, pottery, tools—will be the subject of the next article.
|Figure 1. The part of radiocarbon in the carbon cycle|
Libby’s initial results seemed very successful, and in 1960 he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of this important new technique.
Measurement LimitsUntil the last few years, laboratories measured carbon-14 content indirectly by extracting all the carbon from a sample and then counting its radioactive emissions. Unfortunately, many of these systems required relatively large samples to obtain accurate results. Archaeologists faced the dilemma of either preserving or dating their precious finds. The application of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to carbon isotope analysis has changed this picture dramatically. An AMS system has the advantage of counting individual carbon-14 atoms.
Laboratories using the decay-measuring method claim they can analyze several grams of carbon with a typical accuracy of ±40-150 years, and a maximum range of 30-40,000 years. AMS labs claim they can measure several milligrams of carbon with a typical accuracy of ±80-400 years, and a maximum range of 40,000 years (Taylor, 1987, Table 4.1; see also Aitken, 1990, Table 4.1). However, being able to measure tiny amounts of carbon-14 is not the same as proving that objects are thousands-of-years old.
Radiocarbon Assumptions and ProblemsLike other radiometric methods, radiocarbon dating faces technical problems and operates under some questionable assumptions.
- Perhaps the most critical assumption of radiocarbon dating is that the rates of carbon-14 production and decay are in a state of balance or equilibrium, and have been so for millions of years. If this were true, the carbon-12/carbon-14 ratio in living organisms will be the same as the ratio in an organism that lived thousands of years ago. However, we have reason to think that this is not true, as we will see in a later section.
- Radiocarbon dating assumes a constant decay rate for the breakdown of carbon-14. At present, we have no firm evidence for any systematic change in this rate.
- Contamination by groundwater, soil, or foreign matter is always a potential problem. However, people working with radiocarbon dating feel confident that good sample collection can overcome this problem.
- Some organisms may exclude the heavier carbon-14 isotopes preferentially, making them look too old (e.g., living shellfish that have a radiocarbon “age” of several hundred years). Comparison of carbon-12 and carbon-14 with the stable isotope carbon-13 is supposed to correct this problem (see Aitken, 1990, pp. 62-64). Environmental factors, such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions, which increase the local concentrations of carbon dioxide, may also have an effect on the carbon-14/carbon-12 ratio.
- Looming over all these assumptions is the idea that cross-checking with other archaeological information will confirm whether the radiocarbon date is “reasonable.” This introduces the specter of subjectivity.
In the mid-1920s, Douglass began to apply tree rings to dating in archaeology. His idea was to match ring patterns in the timbers of Native American structures, with the ring patterns in yellow pines. This is a relatively simple matter if the ruins are only a few hundred years old. But if they predate the living trees, then it is necessary to use indirect methods. Douglass bridged the gap by overlapping patterns of successively older timbers. This classic technique is called cross dating.
Researchers have since applied Douglass’ pioneering techniques to other species, including living and dead specimens of the bristlecone pine. From this longest-living of all trees, they have constructed a chronology going back almost ten thousand years.
Supposedly, tree rings produce “real” dates. For example, say we wanted to date a piece of German oak furniture. We could try to match a pattern of rings on the furniture, with a pattern of rings in living oaks from a forest near to where it was made. Using our tree-ring chronology for German oaks, we might get a date of A.D. 1651. This represents the year when the tree was cut and, presumably, gives a good estimate of the furniture’s age. In contrast, if we applied radiocarbon dating, all we could say is that the piece dates to sometime in the seventeenth century.
Problems with Tree-Ring DatingThe most questionable assumption in dendrochronology is the rate of ring formation. General principles of biology and climate suggest that trees add only one ring each year. Individual bristlecone pines, which grow very slowly in arid, high altitude areas of western North America, will sometimes skip a year of growth. This might make a tree appear younger than it really is, but dendrochronologists fill in the missing information by comparing rings from other trees.
However, trees would appear too old if they grew more than one ring per year. Most dendrochronologists, drawing on an influential study by LaMarche and Harlan (1973), believe that bristlecone pines do indeed add only one ring per year. Yet not all scientists accept this study. According to Harold Gladwin (1978), the growth patterns of the bristlecone trees are too erratic for dating. Lammerts (1983) found extra rings after studying the development of bristlecone saplings. He suggested that the existing chronology should be compressed from 7,100 to 5,600 years.
Other problems relate to the analysis of growth-ring patterns. Baillie warns:
As with conventional jig-saws, some people are better at pattern recognition than others and, if the analogy is not too brutal, there are those who recognise the problems, and those who might try to force the pieces together. It has to be remembered that there is only one correct pattern: each tree has grown only once and ultimately its ring pattern can only fit at one place in time. Simply because two pieces look alike does not necessarily mean that they fit together (1982, p. 23).Computers can provide an important tool for some of this analysis. But researchers must still judge the statistical significance of an apparent match. Also, they must consider variables like local climate and aging, which affect the width of the rings.
THE ASSUMPTION OF EQUILIBRIUM
To calculate the radiocarbon age of a specimen, we need to compare the carbon-12/carbon-14 ratio now, with the carbon-12/carbon-14 ratio at the time of death. However, we do not know the ratio at the time of death, which means we have to make an assumption. Modern radiocarbon dating assumes that the carbon-14/carbon-12 ratio in living organisms is the same now as it was in ancient organisms before they died. In other words, the system of carbon-14 production and decay is said to be in a state of balance or equilibrium. Yet this assumption is questionable, even for an old Earth.
The problem is akin to a burning candle (cf. Chittick, 1970, p. 66). Without stretching the analogy too far, let us imagine that the wax represents carbon-14. We could take a ruler and measure the length of the remaining candle. We could even measure the rate at which the candle is burning down. But how can we know when the candle was lit? We simply cannot answer this question without knowing the original length of candle. Perhaps we could make a guess from a nearby unlit candle, but it would only ever be a guess.
In the old-Earth model, the process of making carbon-14 began billions of years ago. The evolving atmosphere filled rapidly with carbon-14, but this rate slowed as carbon-14 found its way into the oceans and the biosphere. Eventually, the carbon-14 would break down into nitrogen-14, thus completing the cycle. Geologists freely admit that this process has not always been in equilibrium, but they maintain that this will not affect the radiocarbon method in any practical way.
The first signs of trouble with this assumption surfaced in Libby’s early work. He settled on a specific decay rate (SDR) of 15.3 atoms per minute per gram of total carbon in the specimen, and a specific production rate (SPR) of 18.8 atoms per minute per gram of carbon in the Earth’s active carbon inventory. Libby never seriously questioned the discrepancy between these two numbers. He felt that his method was accurate, and that the numbers were close enough. But during the 1950s, researchers started to notice a regular disagreement between radiocarbon and “well-established” archaeological dates. As Aitken comments: “In retrospect it seems to have been unduly optimistic to assume that the modern values were the true starting values for all time past” (1990, p. 66).
These problems encouraged a systematic study in which researchers used the radiocarbon method to date tree rings. Two levels of error emerged. One was a small-scale, short-term variation that can make a given radiocarbon date appear up to four hundred years older or younger than expected (Taylor, 1987, Figure 2.11). Much of this error may be the result of sunspot activity, which in turn affects solar radiation and the production of carbon-14.
A second error comes from an S-shaped, long-term trend (Figure 2). One bend of the curve peaks in the middle of the first millennium A.D. Radiocarbon ages during this period overestimate dendrochronological ages by up to a hundred years. The curve switches direction around 500 B.C., when radiocarbon ages begin to underestimate supposed dendrochronological ages. The discrepancy grows as we go back in time, so that by the fifth millennium B.C., radiocarbon dates are too recent by 800 years.
|Figure 2. Major trend in the plot of dendrochronology vs. radiocarbon dates. Dates above dashed zero line overestimate tree-ring ages; dates below underestimate tree-ring ages (after Taylor, 1987, Figure 2.8).|
NONEQUILIBRIUM RADIOCARBON DATING
In a world with such a history we would expect nonequilibrium conditions. Production of carbon-14 began only 6,000 years ago—the approximate time of Creation. Roughly 1,500 years later, the Flood upset the entire carbon cycle. As the discrepancy between SPR and SDR shows, the Earth is still in the process of attaining equilibrium. Further, we know from the radiocarbon dating of tree rings that as we go back in time, we find less and less carbon-14. If there was less carbon-14 in the past, then there has been less decay in our samples than the equilibrium model assumes. And if there has been less decay, then the samples are not as old as they may seem.
The nonequlibrium approach attempts to apply this information to radiocarbon dating. But like the equilibrium method, it must still rely on certain assumptions. Robert Whitelaw’s (1970) version, for example, assumes that cosmic radiation and atomic decay have remained constant since the Creation. He proposes that the SDR has risen steadily since the Creation, and that the burial of almost all plants and animals in the Flood brought an initially high SPR down to current levels. Whitelaw also sets the Creation at roughly 7,000 years ago, and the Flood at roughly 5,000 years ago. Table 1 shows the effect of his corrections on equilibrium ages.
Problems with Nonequilibrium DatingAccording to equilibrium radiocarbon dating, the Egyptian “Old Kingdom” period began approximately 4,100 years ago (Finegan, 1979, p. 404). Whitelaw’s scheme lowers this age by 600 years (to c. 1550 B.C.), which puts Moses and the Exodus at the time of the great pyramid builders such as Djoser and Cheops. Clearly, this upsets the established Egyptian chronology. It means, for instance, that Thutmose III cannot be the pharaoh of the Exodus. However, we need more than a few corrected radiocarbon dates to embark on an overdue reorganization of early Egyptian dynasties. Our most reliable account of the oppression and departure of the Israelites is the Bible, and it mentions neither pyramids, nor the names of Egyptian kings.
The difficulties do not end here. Occasionally we find a radiocarbon date that confirms biblical history. For example, Bryant G. Wood cites a radiocarbon date of 1410 B.C. ±40 years to support a biblically consistent account of Jericho’s fall (1990, 16:53; see also Jackson, 1990). Using Whitelaw’s method, this date adjusts to sometime in the late eighth to early ninth century B.C. This leaves us with an unsavory choice: either we can accept the date, but debate its archaeological context; or we can reject the date outright, suggesting the sample was contaminated or the measurement flawed.
Finally, Whitelaw’s model puts any published age greater than 6,000 years into the pre-Flood era (Table 1). However, this may not work in every case. For instance, a baby mammoth named Dima was recovered from the frozen tundra of Siberia, and seems to belong to the post-Flood era. Conventional radiocarbon dating gives it an age of 27,000 years, which by Whitelaw’s model adjusts to the first few hundred years after the Creation. Yet it is hard to imagine how a baby mammoth from the time of Adam could find its way into the post-Flood world.
|Whitelaw's Nonequilibrium Age||Published Equilibrium Age|
Table 1: Relationships between corrected and published ages of specimens in years since death (Whitelaw, 1970, p. 65)
Some creationists have used this information to model a biblically consistent version of the radiocarbon method. While commending them for their effort, we should not be surprised at their lack of success, for this reason: they must still presume to know the starting conditions. This is the critical assumption on which all “absolute” dating methods must fail, whether they are used by evolutionists or creationists.
Similarly, we should not accept the claims for dendrochronology at face value. Bristlecones may add more than one growth ring per year, and the “art” of cross dating living and dead trees may be a considerable source of error.
Both radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology face technical problems, and are loaded with uniformitarian and old Earth ideas. They assume that nature works today the same as it has worked for millions of years, yet the facts do not support this contention. Neither method should give us cause to abandon the facts of biblical history.
Baillie, M.G.L. (1982), Tree-Ring Dating and Archaeology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Chittick, Donald E. (1970), “Dating the Earth and Fossils,” Symposium on Creation II, ed. Donald W. Patten, et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), pp. 57-74.
Finegan, Jack (1979), Archaeological History of the Ancient Middle East (Boulder, CO: Westview Press).
Gladwin, Harold S. (1978), “Dendrochronology, Radiocarbon, and Bristlecones,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 15:24-26, June.
Jackson, Wayne (1990), “The Saga of Ancient Jericho,” Reason & Revelation, 10:17-19, April.
LaMarche, V.C., Jr. and T.P. Harlan (1973), “Accuracy of Tree Ring Dating of Bristlecone Pine For Calibration of the Radiocarbon Time Scale,” Journal of Geophysical Research, 78:8849-8858.
Lammerts, Walter E. (1983), “Are the Bristlecone Pine Trees Really So Old?,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 20:108-115, September.
Taylor, R.E. (1987), Radiocarbon Dating: An Archaeological Perspective (Orlando, FL: Academic Press).
Whitelaw, Robert L. (1970), “Time, Life, and History in the Light of 15,000 Radiocarbon Dates,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 7:56-71.
Wood, Bryant G. (1990), “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?—A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 16:44-58, March/April.
Copyright © 1993 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
|by||Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.|
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series on “Dating in Archaeology.” Part I is titled “Dating in Archaeology: Radiocarbon and Tree-Ring Dating.”]
“Biblical historical data are accurate to an extent far surpassing the ideas of any modern critical students, who have consistently tended to err on the side of hypercriticism” (1949, Albright, p. 229).
“Archaeologists now generally agree that their discoveries...have produced a new consensus about the formation of ancient Israel that contradicts significant parts of the biblical version” (Strauss, 1988).These statements represent the conflicting messages that characterize the field of archaeology. In Albright’s era, archaeologists’ interpretations of field excavations ordinarily corroborated biblical information. It was common for prominent archaeologists such as Nelson Glueck to confidently affirm: “...no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference” (1959, p. 31).
Prior to the 1970s, interpretations of archaeological explorations generally heightened the Bible’s credibility (Davis, 1993, 19:54-59). Since then, however, the amiable relationship between archaeology and the Bible has deteriorated dramatically. It is commonplace for the new generation of archaeologists to spurn the historical credibility of the biblical narrative (see Dever, 1990, 16:52-62).
Archaeology, therefore, presents a challenge to those who contend for the integrity of the Scriptures. How are we to respond? On what basis do many archaeologists repudiate the historicity of the biblical text, and how reliable are their methods? To answer these and other questions we must have a basic understanding of the science of archaeology.
A “MOUND” OF EVIDENCE
Though much surface exploration occurs, we often associate archaeology with excavation. Most excavations involve a “tell,” which is the Arabic word for “mound.” More descriptively, the word traces back to the Babylonian tillu, which meant “ruin heap” (Albright, 1949, p. 18). Similar to the Indian mounds of North America, tells are artificial hills composed of the cultural remains (e.g., pottery, tools, weapons, statues) from different settlements on the same site.
Stratification—the Making of a TellThe cross section of a tell resembles a layer cake, with each layer representing an occupational level. These mounds were not formed merely by the natural drifting of sands, or by the gradual accumulation of debris. Though these were factors, catastrophes such as war, fire, or earthquake destroyed a settlement. Then, new settlers leveled the ground, and rebuilt on the same site. The layer of debris from the previous city formed a stratum, which generally measured from about one to five feet thick (Free, 1969, pp. 6-7). This caused the ground level of the new settlement to be several feet higher than the previous one. Also, the cultural remnants of the older settlement lay underneath the new.
Over the years, this process was repeated until several successive strata were formed, and the mound rose higher. As the height of the mound rose, the occupational area generally decreased (though sometimes the reverse occurred; Albright, 1949, p. 17). When the site was finally abandoned, wind and rain leveled the top and eroded the sides, until a city wall or other structure halted the erosion process. The shape of these mounds resembles a truncated cone (see Unger, 1954, pp. 19-21). Most important biblical sites have this characteristic form, which trained archaeologists readily recognize.
Excavation and DatingOnce a tell has been identified, then comes the arduous and fastidious task of excavation. There is more to excavating one of these mounds than merely removing each successive occupational layer, since artifacts from one stratum can intrude into another level. Archaeologists, therefore, have developed methods that help them identify artifacts with their proper stratum (see Kenyon, 1957a, pp. 75-80; LaSor, 1979, 1:237-240). These methods also assist them in developing a sequential chronology of the tell, since artifacts from the top layer represent the most recent civilization and the bottom layer represents the oldest. But how do they assign specific dates to these levels?
Often, and especially for ancient dates, radiocarbon and dendrochronology (i.e., tree-ring dating) are employed, whose deficiencies have been well-documented (see Major, 1993). For more recent dates, archaeologists generally rely on a sophisticated dating system based upon pottery, which is used extensively in Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Sir Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), the famed Egyptologist, first introduced this method, and William Albright, the distinguished American archaeologist, refined it further. Pottery serves well for dating purposes for at least two reasons: (1) it was relatively inexpensive, and thus plentiful; and (2) pottery styles underwent frequent changes (see LaSor, 1979, 1:241-242; Laughlin, 1992; Wood, 1988). This system associates the marked changes of pottery styles with different archaeological ages (see Figure 1).
|Figure 1: Cross section through an idealized tell showing pottery types, and successive layers of settlement from ancient to modern times. The evolutionary-based archaeological timescale on the right comes from Silberman (1989)|
How do pottery types date the strata from which they are unearthed? Suppose workers discover a cooking pot with relatively straight sides, a row of holes just below the rim, and a rope decoration below the holes. According to pottery typology, this kind of vessel was dominant in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000-1500 B.C.; Laughlin, 1992, 18:73). Thus, if a sufficient amount of such vessels is found in a level of a tell, an archaeologist will date the stratum between the years 2000-1500 B.C.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY
The Age of the EarthFirst, there is a discrepancy between the archaeological and biblical estimations of the Earth’s age. The chronologies supplied with the genealogies from Adam to Abraham prohibit the Earth from being as old as the archaeological timescale indicates. While it is true that genealogical rec~ords occasionally may contain gaps, this does not negate the force of the chronologies attached to them. If Seth were, for example, a distant relative of Adam, nevertheless, Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (Genesis 5:3). We cannot dismiss a priori biblical chronology simply by assuming genealogical gaps.
The archaeological timescale indicates a Paleolithic era which dates back to 700,000 years ago. Further, archaeologists generally recognize a Neolithic settlement at Tell es-Sultan (Jericho) which dates to about 8000 B.C. (Wood, 1990, 16:45). Since the Flood would have destroyed any orderly remains of antediluvian civilizations, the remnants of ancient societies preserved in mounds (as those at Jericho) most likely accumulated after the Flood (Vaninger, 1985a, 20:34). Such a timetable forces the Creation back several thousand more years than allowed by biblical chronology.
Conquest of CanaanSecond, biblical and archaeological dates of some historical events are in conflict. A classic example of this chronological tension is the conquest of Canaan. The Bible indicates that 480 years transpired between the exodus and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 6:1). We can date his reign with reasonable confidence at 971-931 B.C., which places the date of his fourth regnal year at 967 B.C. This would place the date of the exodus at 1447 B.C. Allowing for the 40 years of wilderness wandering prior to the Israelites’ invasion of Canaan, the initial stages of the conquest occurred around 1407 B.C.
However, archaeologists generally believe that the Israelites entered Canaan about 1230-1220 B.C., nearly 200 years later than the biblical date (Bimson, 1987, 13:40-42). Again, excavations at Jericho, the first fortified city conquered by the Israelites (Joshua 2-6), are at the heart of this controversy. John Garstang was the first to employ modern pottery chronology to explore this biblical site. He uncovered a residential area in the southeast slope of the tell, which he called “City IV.” This city had been destroyed by a violent conflagration. Based on pottery in the destruction debris, and other artifacts in the nearby cemetery, he associated City IV with the first city Israel defeated in the conquest. Garstang dated this destruction level to the late 15th or early 14th century B.C., and he believed that the invading Israelites caused the destruction, in harmony with the biblical record (Joshua 6:24; Wood, 1987, p. 7).
Kathleen Kenyon critiqued Garstang’s work in 1951, and did additional excavation at this site during 1952-1958. Kenyon disagreed with Garstang’s date of the destruction level, and placed it at c. 1550 B.C., many years before the biblical date of the conquest. She further contended that in 1400 B.C. there was no fortified city for Joshua’s army to conquer, and that the archaeological evidence does not agree with the biblical description of a large-scale military incursion contemporary with the destruction of Jericho (Kenyon, 1957b, p. 259). Kenyon based her conclusions largely upon the absence of pottery typically used around 1400 B.C.
Subsequently, scholars have critiqued Kenyon’s work and have vindicated the conclusions of Garstang, and, by implication, the biblical chronology (Wood, 1990; Livingston, 1988; see also Jackson, 1990). Kenyon’s conclusions, however, caused Jericho to become the classic example of the difficulties with correlating the biblical account of the conquest with the archaeological record. Pottery stands at the center of the interpretive and dating discrepancies of the conquest.
PROBLEMS WITH ARCHAEOLOGICAL METHODS
Evolutionary AssumptionsAs a rule, archaeologists endorse evolutionary assumptions that the Earth is ancient and that man developed gradually—both physically and intellectually—over millions of years. Kenyon attributed the development of the Jordan Valley to vast terrestrial movements two million years ago (Kenyon, 1957b, p. 23). Albright discussed in detail the “...artistic evolution of Homo sapiens,” which first began around 30,000 to 20,000 B.C. (1942, pp. 6-10). Allegedly, as man slowly “evolved,” he learned how to manufacture tools from stones, and gradually developed the ability to make pottery. With his discovery of fire, he learned to fashion tools from copper and iron. Thus, archaeologists assume that centuries transpired before man graduated from stone tools and weapons to metallic implements.
This, however, is an assumption that is plainly at odds with biblical revelation. Man was highly intelligent from the dawn of Creation, and possessed the ability to manufacture tools and musical instruments (indicative of artistic ability) from metals (Genesis 4:20-22). Further, the descendants of Noah retained the technical ability for making tools and weapons, which would allow for rapid cultural recovery and restoration after the Flood (see Vaninger, 1985b, 22:67). The tower of Babel is an eloquent, and infamous, witness to the postdiluvians’ technical abilities (Genesis 11).
In addition, the divinely prompted dispersion from Babel would account for the cultural disparity between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamian cultures. Researchers have found virtually no evidence of unsophisticated cultures in Egypt; advanced civilization in that region veritably explodes onto the historical scene. In contrast, Mesopotamia exhibits a clear cultural development from simple societies to more advanced civilization (Vaninger, 1985a, 22:38). This has puzzled archaeologists for many years. But, the ancient dispersion could account for these disparate cultural developments.
Evidence indicates that an aggressive transfusion of culture from the Near and Middle East into Egypt occurred in ancient history, which directly corresponds to biblical information (cf. Genesis 11:8-9; Albright, 1949, pp. 71-72). Those who migrated to Egypt obviously carried with them both culture and technology more advanced than those possessed by the people who remained in the Mesopotamian region. Accordingly, highly developed civilizations, and cultures which used stone implements, were contemporary; they were not separated by millennia. Even today, some cultures remain isolated from advanced technology, and continue to employ implements generally associated with the so-called Stone Age (see Livingston, 1992, 5:7). Thus, evidence of settlements using stone tools does not demand an ancient Earth.
Paucity of EvidenceSecond, we must recognize that archaeological evidence is fragmentary and, therefore, greatly limited. Despite the amount of potsherds, bones, ornaments, or tools collected from a given site, the evidence reflects only a paltry fraction of what existed in antiquity (Brandfon, 1988, 14:54). Unearthed data often are insufficient, inconclusive, and subject to biased interpretation. The current debate about the time of the conquest is a case in point. Archaeological data alone are inadequate to determine the exact date, or cause, of Jericho’s destruction. Therefore, we should listen with cautious skepticism when archaeologists appeal to evidence that conflicts with the biblical text.
Presuppositions of ArchaeologistsThird, the paucity of archaeological evidence provides fertile soil for imaginative—and often contradictory—conclusions. We must not overlook the matter of subjectivity in interpretations. Regarding this matter, Jesse Long Jr. correctly stated that “...presuppositions and assumptions determine interpretive stance and often color conclusions” (1992, 134:12). He further added that “...the new archaeological consensus [regarding discoveries contradicting significant parts of the biblical version—GKB] may be more a reflection of philosophical assumptions than the concrete evidence of sherds and stones” (1992, 134:12).
Inexact ScienceFinally, archaeology is an imprecise science, and should not serve as the judge of biblical historicity. The pottery dating scheme, for example, has proved to be most helpful in determining relative dates of strata in a tell. But, at best, pottery can place one only within the “chronological ball park.” John Laughlin, a seasoned archaeologist, recognized the importance of potsherds in dating strata, but offered two warnings: (1) a standard pottery type might have had many variants; and (2) similar ceramic types might not date to the same era—some types may have survived longer than others, and different manufacturing techniques and styles might have been introduced at different times in different locales. Further, he mentioned the fact of subjectivity in determining pottery typology: “...in addition to its observable traits, pottery has a ‘feel’ to it” (1990, 18:72). Therefore, we must recognize archaeology for what it is—an inexact science with the innate capacity for mistakes.
Indeed, archaeology is most helpful in biblical studies, often confirming and illuminating biblical texts. We must be aware, however, of its limitations, and deficiencies. The dating methods employed (e.g., radiocarbon, dendrochronology, pottery, and others) are imperfect, and are always based upon certain assumptions. Further, we should be aware of the current anti-biblical trend among many archaeologists. As with any scientific discipline, we need not sift God’s Word through the sieve of archaeological inquiry. Archaeological interpretations are in a constant state of flux and often wither as grass, but God’s Word abides forever.
Albright, W.F. (1949), The Archaeology of Palestine (Hardmondsworth, England: Penguin Books).
Bimson, John (1987), “Redating the Exodus,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 13:40-68, September/October.
Brandfon, Fredric (1988), “Archaeology and the Biblical Text,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 14:54-59, January/February.
Brantley, Garry K. (1993), “Pagan Mythology and the Bible,” Reason & Revelation, 13:49-53, July.
Davis, Thomas (1993), “Faith and Archaeology: A Brief History to the Present,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 19:54-59, March/April.
Dever, William (1990), “Archaeology and the Bible: Understanding Their Special Relationship,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 16:52-62, May/June.
Free, Joseph (1969), Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press).
Glueck, Nelson (1959), Rivers in the Desert (New York: Grove Press).
Jackson, Wayne (1990), “The Saga of Ancient Jericho,” Reason & Revelation, 10:17-19, April.
Kenyon, Kathleen (1957a), Beginning in Archaeology (New York: Praeger).
Kenyon, Kathleen (1957b), Digging Up Jericho (New York: Praeger).
LaSor, W.S. (1979), “Archaeology,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 1:235-244, revised edition.
Laughlin, John (1992), “How to Date a Cooking Pot,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 18:72-74, September/October.
Livingston, David (1988), “Exodus and Conquest,” Archaeology and Biblical Research, 1:13-17, Summer.
Livingston, David (1992), “Was Adam a Cave Man?,” Archaeology and Biblical Research, 5:5-15, January/February.
Long, Jesse C. Jr. (1992), “Archaeology in Biblical Studies,” Gospel Advocate, 134:12-14, December.
Major, Trevor (1993), “Dating in Archaeology—Radiocarbon and Tree-Ring Dating,” Reason & Revelation, 13:73-77, October.
Silberman, Neil Asher (1989), “Measuring Time Archaeologically,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 15:70-71, November/December.
Strauss, Stephen (1988), quoted in: Long, Jesse Jr. (1992), “Archaeology in Biblical Studies,” Gospel Advocate, 134:12-14, December.
Unger, Merrill (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Vaninger, Stan (1985a), “Archaeology and the Antiquity of Ancient Civilization: A Conflict with Biblical Chronology?—Part I,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 22:33-39, June.
Vaninger, Stan (1985b), “Archaeology and the Antiquity of Ancient Civilization: A Conflict with Biblical Chronology?—Part II,”Creation Research Society Quarterly, 22:64-67, September.
Wood, Bryant (1987), “Uncovering the Truth at Jericho,” Archaeology and Biblical Research, pp. 7-16, premier issue.
Wood, Bryant (1988), “Before They Were Sherds,” Archaeology and Biblical Research, 1:27ff., Autumn.
Wood, Bryant (1990), “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?—A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 16:45-57, March/April
Copyright © 1993 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.