A new paleomagnetic study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has helped to clarify the dates of destruction at various Iron Age sites in Israel. The study, entitled “Reconstructing Biblical Military Campaigns Using Geomagnetic Field Data,” was authored by Yoav Vaknin, his PhD advisors, and numerous archaeologists, including Amihai Mazar, Aren Maeir, Yosef Garfinkel, Rami Arav, Avraham Faust, Ron Tappy, and Seymour Gitin. Paleomagnetism studies the ferromagnetic particles in objects that have been heated at high temperatures, such as in a pottery kiln or in a layer destroyed by fire, to determine the signature of the earth's magnetic field at the time of heating. The magnetosphere fluctuates, and researchers have spent the past decade reconstructing the earth’s magnetic field by analyzing hundreds of known, datable objects. In their new study, the above authors used the data from 21 destruction layers at 17 sites in Israel to determine when the settlements were destroyed. They claim that their research has helped to settle the debate around whether Beth She’an was destroyed by Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonq I) in the tenth century BC or Hazael, king of Damascus, in the ninth century BC. The paleomagnetic data from burnt bricks in destroyed buildings at Beth She’an does not align with the time of Hazael but is compatible with the time of Shishak. Another example comes from Beth Shemesh, which the paleomagnetic data suggests was destroyed at the beginning of the eighth century BC. This time frame does not correspond to any known foreign invasion, but it does lend support to the biblical text, which describes a battle between Judah and Israel around this time: “So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home” (2 Kings 14:11b–12). Vaknin believes paleomagnetic data can be used to complement radiocarbon data and ceramic typology to more accurately date artifacts and sites in Israel, particularly during the Iron Age.
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