An Ultra-Low Chronology of Iron Age Palestine

By Hagens, Graham | Antiquity, June 1999 | Go to article overview

An Ultra-Low Chronology of Iron Age Palestine


Hagens, Graham, Antiquity


Introduction

The chronology of ancient Palest}ne during the Iron Age is still subject to considerable uncertainty and wide variations in the dating of archaeological strata are to be found in the literature. Difficulties arise from an unusually complex stratigraphy which has made it 'extremely difficult to determine both the timing and the course of events in the region' (Dever 1992). There is, for example, no general agreement on the dating of the 'Solomonic' structures found at Megiddo and Hazor which Wightman and others suggest should be lowered to the 9th century BC (lower dating is supported by Wightman 1990; Ussishkin 1990; Bourke 1996, but countered by Dever 1990). In spite of the diversity of opinions, much of the debate until recently has been concerned only with the question of relative chronology, and the absolute dating of Iron Age Palestine which derives from that of the Egyptian New Kingdom has not been challenged. According to the generally accepted premise, these dates are strictly limited to a narrow range in which the accession date of Ramesses III (for example) lay somewhere between 1198 and 1182 BC. It is, however, now known that the basis for this assumption is invalid (James et al. 1991: 225-8), and that an alternate reading of the Egyptian records suggests that Ramesses III may have acceded to the throne almost a century later than generally believed (Hagens 1996; see Appendix). Because the absolute dating of Iron I Palestine derives from that of the Pharaohs of the 20th Dynasty, while Iron II dates are calculated by means of historical and literary associations, it is obvious that any lowering of the Ramesside period would reduce the duration of Iron I an equivalent amount (after Mazar (1992) Iron I is here taken from the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age transition c. the 8th year of Ramesses III, and Iron II from c. 1000 BC). The objective of this paper is to explore the possibility that the ultra-low dating of the 20th Dynasty might clarify our understanding of that very complex period. This will be done by reviewing the archaeology of a number of Iron Age Palestinian locations, beginning with Megiddo, a site which has provided an important dating anchor for much of the region.

The stratigraphy of Iron Age Megiddo

The destruction of the important strongholds at Beth-shan and Megiddo (VIIA) signalled the [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] end of a long period of Egyptian domination of Syro-Palestine. Dating the termination of Megiddo VIIA depends on the significance attributed to a pedestal of Ramesses VI which was found buried in the previous occupational level, stratum VIIB. Although some scholars (Mazar 1985a: 97; Singer 1985; Ussishkin 1995: 259-60) have taken this as evidence that Megiddo VIIA continued into the reign of Ramesses VI, others (Weinstein 1992; Bietak 1993) minimized the importance of this intrusive item, while Finkelstein (1996: 171) even suggested that the city could have been destroyed as early as the eighth year of Ramesses III. Proposed dates for the termination of Megiddo VIIA therefore range from c. 1190 BC, the high date of Ramesses III's eighth year, to 1133 BC, the low value of Ramesses VII.

Still more uncertainty surrounds the duration of the next phase, Megiddo VIB. This was a modest settlement which consisted of no more than a small assembly of buildings and which yielded so little pottery that it was difficult to differentiate this level from the next occupational phase, stratum VIA. Although the paucity of material suggests that VIB lasted a relatively short period of time, the presence of Philistine Bichrome pottery in the assemblage led Dothan (1982: 76-8, 290-91) and Mazar (1985a: 103) to conclude that this phase lasted about a hundred years from c. 1150 to 1080-1050 BC. Finkelstein (1996: 172,175) however, suggested that the site was deserted for about half a century after the fall of Megiddo VIIA, [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] and that VIB was founded at the beginning of the 11th and lasted until the 10th century. …

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