Biblical Archaeology Review 31:1, January/February 2005

Radiocarbon Dating

How To Find Your True Love

By Hershel Shanks

Are you single and looking for your true love? Someone thought the conference I recently attended at Oxford was the answer: Radiocarbon dating was the way to find the perfect match. Radiocarbon would identify just the right person for you.

The story, of course, is apocryphal. The real purpose of the radiocarbon conference was, of course, to solve one of the most contentious dating puzzles in current Biblical archaeology—the absolute dates of several archaeological layers, or strata, as they are called.

The subtext, rarely mentioned at the conference, however, was the question of whether King Solomon’s reign was archaeologically monumental or paltry.

All agree that King Solomon ruled in the mid-tenth century B.C., say sometime between about 960 and 930 B.C. But what archaeological material—what layer or stratum—is to be identified with the mid-tenth century B.C.?

Answering that, in turn, depends on establishing the date of the transition from what archaeologists call Iron Age I to Iron Age II. Traditionally, Iron I is the period of the Judges (and perhaps of King David, who didn’t do much building) and extended from about 1200 B.C. to 1000 B.C. (or, better, 980 B.C.). Archaeologically speaking, Iron I is not very impressive. In Iron II, however, archaeologists have uncovered monumental architecture, huge city gates and well-built palaces.

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