Archaeology and Dating by Israel Finkelstein


I see myself as an historian practicing archaeology, so dating is important.  Now we know today to establish relative dating very well, which means what comes first, what comes next, the different phases of the Iron Age; and this is being done according to pottery assemblages.  The pottery is essential for establishing the relative chronology; but the question is how to tell from relative chronology to absolute chronology to a date which can give us the background for historic reconstruction. 

This can be done in two ways: either there is a find in a certain, in a given layer—let’s say an Egyptian object which carries an absolute date, a well- known name of a monarch, things like that—or good associations, secure associations, with an event mentioned in ancient texts including, of course, the Bible, or first and foremost, the Hebrew Bible, as long as we know where we are and we have a date which is secure. 

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Better than that, I think, is to use radiocarbon dating because radiocarbon gives you, provides you with an independent dating.  And today, in many sites we really bombard the layers with radiocarbon dating programs and we can establish very tight chronology, up to, we can narrow to an uncertainty of thirty years, which is wonderful, if you think that we are dealing with a period 3000 years ago.  So, it is an uncertainty of one percent, something that any scientist in any research, I suppose, would be willing to get.  So, radiocarbon is important and this can really narrow the possibilities of historic reconstructions because sometimes in archaeology, especially for the Iron Age, a difference of fifty years or forty years can mean a completely different historical setting.


Israel Finkelstein

Israel Finkelstein
Professor, Tel Aviv University

Israel Finkelstein is professor of archaeology in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations at Tel Aviv University. He directs the Megiddo expedition and is co-director of the European research project “Reconstructing Ancient Israel: The Exact and Life Sciences Perspective.” He is the author of numerous publications, including The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel (SBL, 2013).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The stage of development during which humans used iron weapons; in the ancient Near East, approx. 1200 to 500 B.C.E.

A sovereign head of state, usually a king or queen.

The use of the molecular decay of carbon-12 and carbon-14 isotopes in an organic object, which happens at a predictable rate over time, to determine the date of that object.

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