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Book 6. Dating

Dating Ancient Near Eastern History

(Part I)

  Back to Table of Contents Page


Historical Dating


Though schoolbooks and popular history gives the impression that historians and archaeologists know the historical record like the backs of their hands, the truth is that dating historical events and archaeological finds is still the hardest part of writing history and is far from perfect. It is made particularly difficult in the Near East because the biblicists, so-called historians and archaeologists that spend more time with their noses in the Jewish scriptures than honestly seeking the truth, have decided already on the events that they expect to find and when they will find them. The result is that the whole of the many links in archaeology between different near eastern sites are forced into the biblical jug. That, of course, would offer no problems, if the biblical jug had the correct shape. It has not.

Careful archaeology of a site can reveal the relative order of events on that site and therefore yield a relative chronology. But it can only be linked to an absolute chronology when something on the site can be tied to an event of known absolute date. Broadly, good absolute dates come from the well documented times of recent history and ancient history back to about the eighth century BC in the Near East, using Assyrian records. It means that when a site can be dated by reference to particular Assyrian kings or officials, then the artefacts on the site can be given a sound date. The same artefacts found elsewhere can then also be firmly dated.

When objects are dated in this way, they are often found to be two or three centuries out of kilter with the dates that the biblicists have already given them! The biblicists then claim they are right because they have the authority of God, through the bible, on their side, and, even more important, they have the authority of the most widely accepted chronology of ancient time—that of Egypt.

The biblicists date objects by reference to the reigns of pharaohs, and even the Assyrian lists are dated with respect to pharaohs for the kings of Assyria before about the ninth century, when Assyrian records begin to get confused. The point about such records is that they often tail into mythology rather than sticking to history. The later Assyrians had an excellent record (lim-mu lists) based on officials who held office each year so that the year could be dated by their name (eponymy). The reliable lists of eponyms are from 911 to the end of the reign of Ashurbanipal (627 BC). The lists of kings gave a grander framework for the dating of the lesser officials so that a complete record exists back to the start of the neo-Assyrian empire. A solar eclipse mentioned in the list of eponyms of the reign of Ashur-dan III dates his tenth year to 763 BC, the earliest absolute date. The chronology of ancient Egypt rests on a host of unproven assumptions. That the literary sources of the anchor dates of Egyptian chronology are late and fragmentary does not help—the conquest of Thebes by the Assyrians in 664 BC begins the reliable dating of Egypt. Before Taharqa (690 BC), it is unreliable, whatever the experts claim.

Before then, the tendency for people, especially newly successful people, to exaggerate their claims to fame by magnifying their history prevailed. Besides that, Assyria seems sure to have split into lesser kingdoms in a federation in the early part of the first millennium BC and yet the separate kings are all listed consecutively instead of concurrently. We do not know which kings overlapped, and yet the length of Assyrian history is thereby extended by an unknown number of years. The Babylonian king Adad-shuma-usur (1216-1187 BC) addressed a letter to two kings of Assyria! If four kingdoms co-existed for 100 years then the history of Assyria is extended by 300 years. Such problems lead to spurious “dark ages” when the culture and the activity of a nation disappears from the documentary and archaeological record.

Von Soden (The Ancient Orient ) confirms that the kings of Old Babylon and Assyria were simply listed even when they ruled simultaneously. It was just that there was no easy way of doing anything clearer. Uncertainties like this give the Assyriologist a choice of chronologies varying by an unknown amount, guessed at 150 years at the time of Hammurabi, and longer before. The low chronology is von Soden’s choice, matching best the fate of the Hittite kingdom, and putting the reigns of Yahdam-Lim and Zimri-Lim of Mari after the Egyptian twelfth dynasty. The Mari texts do not mention Egypt, so it seems inconceivable that they could have been written during the powerful twelfth dynasty. The chaotic second intermediate period followed. The outcome is that about 50 years should be taken off the reigns of kings like Shulgi of the third dynasty of Ur, compared with the standards of the Cambridge Ancient History.

Thus the earlier Assyrian kings are dated by reference to the Egyptian chronology using diplomatic correspondence or more generally monumental inscriptions that describe battles, naming the enemy king. Some of the links are not so direct, being based on the discovery of mutual references in a third place. Discoveries in Crete of a mutual reference to Hammurabi and the Egyptian Middle Kingdom led to a revision of the dates of the Babylonian king, Hammurabi, from 2400 to 1792 BC, an adjustment bigger than the length of the Amorite dynasty of which Hammurabi was a part. Other changes have been more gross still. Sargon of Agade is reassigned from 3800 BC to 2300 BC. The early pharaohs have been reassigned from about 5000 BC to about 3000 BC.

Such large adjustments cannot be expected to happen continually. We ought to be converging towards the correct dates as more information is discovered, but biblicists and Egyptologists deliberately block the process with their insistence that all possible adjustments have already been made. Since the Egyptian chronology is the yardstick for Ancient Near Eastern dating, certainly before the first millennium and to some extent in the first part even of the first millennium, what is its basis, for being so widely accepted?

Egyptian Chronology

The Egyptians had no fixed date from which others were measured, like the supposed date of the foundation of Rome, or the supposed date of the birth of Christ. Each pharaoh recorded dates within his reign from his accession, but, if the date when the reign started is not known, the chronology of each reign is of limited value. Dead kings do not erect monuments to commemorate their death. Sometimes a son or successor will, but they are not common. A monument erected by a king boasting of his exploits can help to sequence the reign when they can be identified with known events.

Precise dates of death and accession might still not be known even though the kings can be placed in relative order, so chronology is still not absolute. The process is also complicated when a king rules with his son as a regent, a practice that was not unusual because it helped train the younger monarch. The son might record his reign from the time he shared the throne with his father or from the time he became the sole monarch. Sometimes a young prince sharing the throne with his father might die before the father, yet he will be recorded as having been a ruler.

Dynastic quarrels and splits can lead to rival dynasties, each recording its own dates, yet both will be listed as having ruled, and will appear in king lists as if they were consecutive. Later, historians will be inclined to take the lists as truly representative, knowing no better. Sometimes the order of dynasties will be unclear, and cannot be resolved without external references. Even these might not help when pharaohs have the same name.

The ancient authors of the king lists cannot be assumed to have been reliable. National or dynastic pride led to faithful scribes falsely extending the history of the nation or dynasty. They might use legendary sources to extend the king lists backwards in time, yet leave out unpopular monarchs. The Babylonian historian under the Greek Seleucid kings, Berosus, wrote the history of Babylon on a scale that went back 36,000 years. Plato wrote the story of Atlantis to suggest that Athens was a world power 11,000 years before.


Now, the order of Egyptian kings and the basis of Egyptian chronology is still to this day taken from the Ptolemaic (3rd century BC) historian of Egypt, Manetho! Yet, Manetho, was the rival of Berosus, and will have done the same sort of thing even if less flamboyantly. He wanted to prove the kingdom of the Ptolemies was superior to Greece or Babylon. The original works of both Manetho and Berossus are now lost. Several synopses of Manetho’s list of kings have been preserved centuries later by Josephus, Julius Africanus, Eusebius and Syncellus, and they differ significantly. All of these except Josephus were Christians, yet even Eusebius had warned that Manetho’s king lists were not a single sequence, some of his dynasties being concurrent. Perhaps Eusebius had tried to eliminate what he considered spurious kings, because Julius Africanus lists over 500 kings while Eusebius lists less than 400 in a slightly shorter time. That might not be so bad, if the names they present can be identified with pharaohs known from other sources but often they cannot. Flinders Petrie took no notice and began with an Egyptian history starting in 5000 BC.

No one will deny that Egypt began as many small city states in the delta and up the Nile. The diversity of Egyptians gods is accepted as a sign of this multiplicity of small kindoms, but Egyptologists have convinced themselves that these were all united by the time written history began. Many of Manetho’s kings will have been concurrently kings of small kingdoms. Priests collected together the king lists of the most important cities and set them in succession to give a spurious antiquity to the country. What is vitally important and is never considered is that the Persians were fond of interefering in the records of the countries they conquered in the interest of their foreign policy. Egyptian records were rationalized by Cambyses and then by Darius II. We have no idea what other conquerors like the Hyksos, the Assyrians and the Babylonians might have done.

The whole practice of separating pharaohs into dynasties was Manetho’s and is still used. The best known dynasties, from their own copious records, are the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, and they discredit Manetho fully. Yet even though some dynasties have left no noticeable trace, they are still listed because Manetho listed them. The seventh to tenth dynasties are poorly documented and have left little trace on the ground but are still faithfully reproduced from Manetho. They stand for 34 pharaohs over a supposed period of 200 years.

Manetho’s figures for length of reign are scarcely bothered with by Egyptologists, they are considered so unreliable, yet the lists themselves are taken on trust. Rameses III left a rich corpus of monuments, so he is well known, but does not appear in Manetho, or did under an unrecognisable name. Africanus and Eusebius did not give any names for the twentieth dynasty and so Rameses III was assigned to it as filling a gap and being in a suitable place after Rameses II. Yet, the list Georgius Syncellus, a Byzantine monk, made from Manetho, did include the names of the twentieth dynasty. Rameses III was not among them! He could have been a pharaoh any time from the twentieth dynasty on, and much suggests that he is a late king, but he now is a fixture in the twentieth and the succession of later Ramesides follow him.

The dates of the dynasties were also decided long before any significant archaeology had been done in Egypt, and even before the hieroglyphs had been deciphered by Champollion. The latter depended on the Rosetta stone found by Napoleon’s army in Egypt in 1799 AD. It was written in three scripts including Greek and allowed Champillion to decipher the hieroglyphs. Another three-scripted document, the Canopus Degree, vindicated Champillion in 1866 AD.

Without the benefit of these discoveries, already in 1819 AD, the Scot, J C Pritchard dated the reign of Rameses III to 1147 BC, apparently as an educated guess because no justification of it has ever been presented. In 1841, Rosselini arbitrarily changed this to 1477 BC, and even Champillion’s brother in 1839 AD dated this pharaoh at 1279 BC, again with no apparent reason.

Oddly, when the hieroglyphs of the temple of Medinet Habu, attributed to Rameses III, were read, they showed that the pharaoh had fought the Peleset, or Philistines, and this fitted in with the period of the Exodus and Conquest of the scriptures. These therefore are dates the biblicists do not want to lose.

The Sothic Cycle

The Egyptian year was 365 days consisting of 360 days plus 5 intercalated holy days for the birthdays of the gods. The story is that the priests wanted to stick to this length of year even though it was short by approximately ¼ day, the reason why we intercalate a leap year every fourth year. Now the river Nile flooded regularly at a particular time of the year that was considered the start of the civic year. Yet because the calendar was out, the celebrations held, when the Nile flooded, slipped back each year, eventually travelling round the seasons until they coincided once more with the flooding of the Nile. The civic and holy years were hardly ever in synchronization.

At a rate of loss of ¼ day every year it took 4 x 365 = 1460 years for it to happen. This came to be called the Sothic year because its progress was judged astronomically by the heliacal rising of the Dog Star (Sirius) that the Egyptians called Sothis. A heliacal rising is when a star rises just before the sun, and so is briefly seen before the sun’s brightness expunges it. Every fourth year the heliacal rising of Sirius slipped by a day from the Inundation Festival, so the number of years into a Sothic cycle of 1460 years can be calculated for any year that someone mentions the date of the heliacal rising of Sothis. It only remains to know when a Sothic cycle begins to have an absolute dating system.

It happens that a Sothic cycle is said to have ended in 139 AD, and so it must have started in 1322 BC, 1460 years before. Another manuscript puts the start of a Sothic cycle in the reign of a pharaoh Menophres. Identifying a Pharaoh with this name that coincided with one of the possible beginnings of the Sothic cycles could give us an anchor for Egyptian chronology. The scholars decided this pharaoh was Rameses I whose throne name was Men-Pehty-Re, and who, fortunately, only reigned for one year, so there was absolutely no doubt for Egyptologists (who are impressed by simple calculations and take them to give the stamp of scientific authority to their work) that Rameses I reigned in 1322 BC.

Another reference to the rising of the Dog Star gave a date in the seventh year of a pharaoh thought to have been Sewosret III in the Middle kingdom, who was therefore dated 1878 BC. The order of the other kings of the twelfth dynasty could therefore be inserted into the chronology. Lunar calculations based on the New Moon ceremonies allow a few choices of dates for Thutmose III and Rameses II, and the most appropriate ones are agreed by the scholars—1504 BC or 1479 BC for Thutmose III and 1290 BC or 1279 BC for Rameses II.

Peter James (Centuries of Darkness, London 1991) adds that in respect of these two key references to the rising of the star Sothis, that provide the lynchpins for the conventional chronology of the Egyptian Middle and New Kingdoms respectively, “have been scotched.” Egyptologist W Helck (1989) pointed out that the Ebers Papyrus, which supposedly provides the Sothic fixed point (traditionally 1517 BC) for the New Kingdom, does not contain a calendar date. L Rose (1994) has shown that the Middle Kingdom fixed point (traditionally 1872 BC) from the Illahun Papyri faces the problem that the lunar data in it cannot fit a date in the nineteenth century BC.

Though no trace of Sothic Dating by Egyptians is known, it was accepted by J H Breasted in Ancient Records of Egypt 1906 AD, and has remained unchallenged until recently. The power of the Sothic calculations depends on the authority of two writers. There is no reason for us to think they were intrinsically unreliable people themselves, but they obviously had sources and we do not know the quality of the sources. They might have been by unreliable people or they might have had copying errors.

On top of this, the identity of Menophres is far from certain. Menophres could be a Greek attempt at transliterating Men-Nof-Re, the Egyptian city of Memphis, where the priests probably made their astronomical observations. The original source or someone later in its transmission might have mistaken the name of the city where Sothis was observed for the name of the pharaoh when the cycle began. The basis of the identification of the start of the cycle with some particular pharaoh is therefore baseless!

Even if Menophres is a pharaoh, there are others who could have been identified as Menophres besides Rameses I. The choice is arbitrary. What if it was Mer-Nefer-Re or Mer-Ne-Ptah? The dishonesty of the method is proved in either case because they are rejected as respectively too early and too late. So, it is not an objective or absolute method of dating because it depends upon the presuppositions of the experts, and they are based on Manetho’s inadequate lists.

Some Egyptologists claim that confirmation of the Sothic Cycle and conventional chronology is a graffito at Deir el-Medina in Western Thebes. It records that workmen saw the Nile inundation at that time and noted its date. It was in the reign of Merenptah (1213-1203 BC), and the season was in phase, showing the Sothic Cycle was near its beginning. It was supposed to have started in 1321 BC. A Merneptah date of c 900 BC would accord with the founding of Samaria by Omri, but would mean the supposed Sothic Cycle was out of phase.

The Theban Graffito is not at Deir el-Medina but overlooks the Valley of the Kings. It is among many crude hieroglyphic texts carved by workmen. David Rohl explains that, in fact, there are two conflicting readings of the date caused by the poor quality of the inscription. Four vertical strokes denote the years and months of the inscription, but careful examinaion suggests they do not read Year 1 month 3, but Year 2 month 2, an error that arises merely because long separated stokes stand for years and short close ones for months. The correct reading is however confirmed by the month sign appearing only over the short two strokes. The date is therefore Year 2, Month 2 of Merneptah, not Year 1, Month 3.

The original interpretation of this script was 2:2 not 1:3, but this reading was dismissed precisely because it did not fit in with the then well held theory of the Sothic cycle. A hundred years later the wrong reading is taken to prove Sothic chronology!

A Nile flood beginning one month earlier (in month 2 not month 3 of Akhet) stands for a 120-year shift in the reign of the king. So far this could be acceptable since Merenptah was 100 years after the strat of the Sothic cycle, but besides this the original translators apparently deliberately took a new meaning for the verb meaning to fall, meaning in the context of a flood, the fall in the level of the water. “The great flood began to recede,” is the proper reading, not “return.”

Even as an informal record, this graffito is unusual because the Egyptians put no importance on the start of the flood (as long as it did!) but on when it began to recede. They always recorded the highest level of the flood each year. From then on the flood was receding, and the workers, who were also peasant farmers, could plan the coming planting season. If the graffito recorded the fall away of the flood, not its beginning, it is another month later than the original Sothic interpretation allowed, the extent of the inundation being about a month. It therefore corresponds to a date another 120 years from the initiation of the cycle.

The Sothic dating method is throroughly discredited, but even accepting it for the sake of argument in this case, the graffito cannot be accepted as proof of the accuracy of conventional dating. At the very least it suggests Merneptah is 120 years too early in time and it could mean he is a twice that too early. Few Egyptologists now bother about the Sothic Cycle, though they do not look to revize Egyptian dates as a result.

Radiocarbon Dating

One might have thought that radiocarbon dating and other such scientific methods would settle any problems, but the Egyptologists remain attached to their chronology and refuse to let go for a silly carbon-14 test! It has been alleged, on the authority of a prominent US Egyptologist, that if C-14 dating is done at all, Egyptologists will quote it in the main part of a “scholarly” paper only when it suits them. Otherwise, it will, at best, find its way into a footnote or, more likely, when it seriously challenges convention, it will be suppressed. So, tests are only published when they agree with orthodox dates, although radiocarbon dating is accepted at the start of Egyptian chronology with Meni, dated to 3100 by C-14. Two dates on material from the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amun were never published by the British Museum and only reached the light of day when the laboratory released the results because the authorities would not. They gave dates of 846 and 899 BC when the experts wanted dates 450 years earlier.

A report in 1979 of an Egyptian sample tested by the Pennsylvania, British Museum and Uppsala labs gave divergent results, the dates from the first two approximating conventional chronology but those from Uppsala being consistently lower and closer to the revized chronology. Uppsala were noted for their care in removing contaminants. Timbers from three successive Mycenaean-period levels at As-siros in Macedonia were dated to 1130-850 BC, 1310-1020 BC and 1300-930 BC, when the excavator expected dates of about 1350 BC, 1450 BC and 1500 BC respectively about three centuries before the radiocarbon results. Unwanted results are easily blamed on contamination especially by fungal blooms, the excuse preferred by the believers in the Turin Shroud when radiocarbon dating showed it was medieval.

In all honesty, such tests, if done, should be published to stimulate other work to confirm or deny the original finding. It shows that these mainly classically trained people simply do not have a proper scientific outlook. They are all defending a view and refuse to consider alternatives with proper objectivity. The result, of course, is that the published radiocarbon dates seem to uphold conventional dating. Students first entering the field get additional confidence in it from this “science” and will be more inclined to join the in-crowd of the orthodox believers in standard chronology. They too will begin to suppress contrary results and the whole rotten edifice continues.

Equally bad is that archaeologists often submit unsuitable samples—randomly selected charcoal, for example. A sample like this that came from a large piece of timber destroyed by fire will often give a high date (it will be older than the fire) by several hundred years, if the tree was felled years earlier and it was a mature tree when felled. Or the timber might have been old timber re-used from an earlier structure. It might not be clear from randomly swept up charcoal that this is the case, but the date might then seem to confirm the excessively high dates that the experts prefer.

An astonishing example of this is given by P Kuhniholm who found a well-preserved juniper post, painted blue with modern door hinges being used in a modern village house. Suspecting that it was old timber, the scientist tried to date it by tree rings—unsuccessfully—so sent a sample to Heidelberg for radiocarbon dating. The date was 2000-2200 BC. So, if this village were incinerated today and that charred door post C-14 dated by an unwary scholar, the village would be declared to be Late Bronze Age! The youngest radiocarbon dates from a site should be taken, not the older ones that seem to fit current chronologies.

Calibration of radiocarbon and actual (calibrated) dates: Baillie and Pilcher - 1983


The radiocarbon technique itself is a flawed technique anyway, depending as it does on the false assumption that the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 is constant over time. The technique has to be calibrated by tree ring counting (dendrochronology) and that requires many samples of wood felled in long sequences, in the rough locality, to be valid. In desert areas this might simply not be possible. An extensive and detailed project of tree ring counting across the Ancient Near East is needed to give a sound calibration for radiocarbon dating, and then a full radiocarbon survey of dateable material from key deposits should be undertaken. None of the great endowed theological departments in US universities seem willing to do it, and would we trust them, if they did?

Even then, the dates in a crucial period of ancient near eastern history would have to be checked directly by dendrochronology, where suitable samples exist. This is because the radiocarbon calibration curve wriggles around a single date for four hundred years corresponding to about 800 to 400 BC. So any radiocarbon date for carbon originating in this period will give essentially the same answer (something between 400 to 600 BC) making discrimination over these years impossible.

Dates after this are too young and have to be lengthened by about 100 years, according to the calibration curve, so it is important for the researchers to say whether the result is calibrated or not. The importance of this is that the youngest dates yielded by a site are to be preferred because most of the combustible material on a site will be older than the site. So long as the technicians can count out more recent contamination, making the sample useless, the youngest dates must be chosen.


Dendrochronology offers the best chance of getting precise dates. Unfortunately the leading dendrochronologist in the UK does not give any confidence that he is even balanced let alone capable of judging important issues. Professor Mike Baillie of Queens University, Belfast, has written a book, Exodus to Arthur, in which he identifies several dates from extreme tree ring events and then searches the literature to find correspondences. A correspondence seems to be any event that could be associated with the marker dates within a century or too. The sources might be historical but he shows a penchant for biblical and Irish mythology—and anything else suitably vague. In this way, he builds up temporal ley lines that point to bombardment by comets!

Who knows that it is not true? But meanwhile, Baillie should be locked up with his charts and mythologies in some suitable anchorage while somebody with a better awareness of the problems of historical chronology is given his professorship. Thus Baillie has the nerve to write that those who question current chronology, like Peter James and David Rohl, “suppress information to sustain their arguments” when one of their main arguments is that conventional chronologers themselves have suppressed information or given misinformation for a hundred years! He has nothing to say here about the wholesale suppression of carbon-14 dates that do not tally with expectations. On the contrary, Baillie says, but does not justify it in a repetitive book, that a revized chronology conflicts with “calibrated radiocarbon chronology and indeed dendrochronology itself.”

Suggestive results are beginning to come in. The Cornell University tree-ring dendrochronology sequence for ancient Turkey came up with a surprising result for the timbers used to build a gateway in a Late Bronze Age Hittite military installation. The last phase of construction of the Tille Höyük Gateway on the Euphrates was dated to 1101 BC. This was an Imperial Hittite outpost, dated conventionally about 1300 BC, and supposedly destroyed c 1190 BC. Field workers must be more ready to publish all results, not just the “right” ones. That is not science!

It seems Baillie is satisfied with conventional chronology, but in a 270 page book gives us no confirmation of it except for a cursory discussion of the eruption of Thera in relation to Egyptian chronology. Thera was believed to have been the only volcanic eruption that could account for a high sulphuric acid anomaly in Greenland ice cores and dated to 1628 BC. That put the end of the Minoan civilsation, which had clear links with Egypt, at an unusually early date, requiring—the Egyptian experts gloated, the raising of dates by a century.

In any case, Eberhard Zangger, in The Future of the Past, thinks archaeological orthodoxy has it all wrong. Evidence of earthquake damage in the Minoan ruins is slight, and evidence of a tsunami negligible. Did the fallout of volcanic pumice and ash from Thera make life impossible for the Minoans? No. Ash deposits on Crete are less than five millimetres thick, and were deposited only on the eastern tip of the island. Archaeology suggests that the Minoans collected and stored the pumice that fell on them during the eruption, not what someone in a terminal panic would have done. Fire, which can be caused by earthquakes, or plague, might have been the causes of the social collapse.

Further analysis of the ice cores has yielded similar anomalies at 1594, 1454, 1327 and 1284 BC, the last one of which would eliminate the mysterious dark ages. Curious that those who leapt on the earlier Thera date will not even consider that latest one!

To this spurious evidence, Baillie adds the opinion of Kenneth Kitchen that Egyptian dating is not more than 11 years adrift. Petrie had assigned 36 years to Osorkon I and this was long accepted, but in 1967 an ancient stele lying in the cellars of University College showed that the reign was only 12 years. In an instant, 24 years were clipped from the chronology of Egypt, yet Kitchen is certain that no more than another 10 could possibly go.

Kitchen accepts that a Psusennes, named as the last pharaoh of the twenty first dynasty, was a contemporary of Shoshenq I, the first twenty second dynasty pharaoh, admitting the that these two dynasties overlapped at least briefly. But Psusennes is made the last pharaoh of the twenty first dynasty because he is contemporary with Shoshenq, the founder of the twenty second dynasty! Since another Psusennes of the twenty first dynasty ruled 80 years before, and the two cannot be distinguished in relation to Shoshenq, a possible overlap could reasonably have been 80 years, or Psusennes II could even have preceded Psusenes I! This would eliminate the time of the wandering of the Israelites in the desert and Joshua’s conquest.

Baillie perhaps recognizes this much in adding his own assertion that the margin of doubt in dating the New Kingdom is less than a century. Since radiocarbon dates are not that accurate they are useless, he maintains. He gives no actual results that might let us judge whether they are giving dates that are 300 years younger, merely telling us what he wants us to know. He cannot wait to hunt through legendary Irish king lists for signs of a cometary impact. Does he do this in his spare time, or is he paid for it? He is so embarrassed he apologizes often, but evidently could not resist a fast buck by writing a potboiler. Doubtless not all dendrochronologists are as irresponsible. Speaking of pots…


Pottery (ware) still is the best method of dating. Pottery is long lived and distinctive. Only a small piece (a sherd) is often needed to indicate the type to an expert and the materials can be identified by analytical techniques like neutron activation analysis to discover where they came from. Imported ware gives cross links to contemporary cultures. Regretably the standard excuse used by those defending orthodox dates is that anachronistic ware or other artefacts are heirlooms—items saved sometimes for hundreds of years. With valuable items, the excuse might carry weight but it is used also of pottery—utensils!

Pottery only gives relative dates unless it can be keyed into an absolute date at some point. Associated inscribed architecture, documentation or monumental inscriptions can do this. In the Ancient Near East, the biblicists will not often accept it. The Cypriot black on red ware dated in Cyprus to the eighth century is dated by biblicists to the tenth so that it denotes the work of Solomon. The fact that it was manufactured in Cyprus means nothing here. The Cypriot factories have been wrongly dated!

J J Bimson, has argued that Tuthmoses III was Shishak, and the start of the Iron Age should be 500 years lower. In 1982, he showed that a downdating of 500 years gives an excellent fit with the development of glazing which without it seems curiously sporadic. The crude glazing attempts, the eighteenth dynasty and the Assyrian glazes of Assurnasirpal become contemporary at the beginning of the technique. There is no question of a gap, a regression, or a re-learning. It also puts the Neo-Elamite ware made of Egyptian Blue of the ninth century contemporary with similar Mitannian ware. Nor did Phoenicians stop making glass in the fourteenth century and start again c800 BC. So, Merenptah was eighth century and Seti I was ninth, each linking with evidence from the scriptures and the archaeology of Palestine. Tutmoses is shown with vast wealth being surrendered on his monuments, suggested by revisionsists still trying to save the bible as the treasure of Solomon’s temple.

It is worth noting that the categorisation of eras into stone, bronze and iron by the Dane, Christian Thomsen (1834), nowadays has no implication that the boundaries of these periods represent a transition from say bronze to iron. They rapidly found that it was easier to denote sites by pottery and pottery has come to represent the distinctions between the various phases of the Thomsen categories. Thus, even if the invasion of Israel by the Israelites is given as Iron Age, it does not mean the Israelites were experts in working iron.

Dark Ages

Oscar Montelius, a Swede, gave an accurate relative typology for sites in northern Europe in the nineteenth century and sought to find an absolute key by reference to Greek and Italian historical sources. None of these however go back before the beginning of the eighth century BC. At the same time, Flinders Petrie began to set up an Egyptian chronology. Egyptian artefacts, found in places outside Egypt, were then used to date the archaeology of countries that had no chronology of their own, or local artefacts found in Egyptians ruins or pictures of known periods were likewise used. The great discoveries in Troy, Mycenae and Greece yielded up typical pottery that Petrie found in Egypt associated with the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. Petrie had already given dates to his finds based on the Manetho king lists and the Sothic cycle theory and so the Aegean findings were dated from them. He dated the start of the Mycenaean era to the start of the eighteenth dynasty, about 1400 BC.

The Mycenaean era conventionally ended when the Dorians invaded southern Greece c 1200 BC. The lowest Egyptian dates were twelfth century but the highest European dates were eighth century. It is the dark age of Greece. A four century “dark age” had appeared, and has been accepted ever since! What happened to the Greeks between sacking Troy in about 1200 and the appearance of Homer singing about it in about 800 BC? Greeks thought the war had ended only three generations before the start of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. The games had lapsed, the chronologers decided, for the 300 dark age years from the twelfth century to the ninth century—then began again as if nothing had happened! Greek and Roman historians never noticed such a gap before their own histories began about 800 BC.

The natural building material in Greece is stone, but the Greeks did not build in stone for 300 years, not even a temple. If the explanation had been a natural disaster like drought, people would have built temples to appease the Gods. They built nothing! Herodotus said the fall of Troy was one generation after the voyage of Jason to Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece. Sir Isaac Newton, a man normally loved by Christians as a scientific genius who held to Christianity, dated this, assuming it to be historic, from the precession of the equinox to 939 BC. Hence the fall of Troy was dated to c 900 BC. Closing the gap gets rid of the mythology in the Jewish scriptures.

The deciphering of Linear B, the Mycenaean script, by Michael Ventris proved that the Mycenaeans were Greeks. Previously they had been thought more likely to have been related to the Cretans who were Semites. The Mycenaeans turned out to have the same pantheon of Gods as the Greeks, the same language and occupied the same space. The Mycenaeans disappeared around 1200 BC, having beaten the Trojans, and Greeks became illiterate and unskilled for four hundred years before producing Homer and Hesiod. These verses were written down in a Canaanite script supposedly from the fourteenth century! The biblicists want the eighth century to be the fourteenth century to give them lots of time to fit in spurious history!

At the very beginning, in 1896, Cecil Torr saw the anomaly, and suggested in Memphis and Mycenae that the Egyptian dates were wrong. He was one of the historians who, at the turn of the twentieth century, were not impressed by Petrie and were content to let the Mycenaean Greeks run into the Archaic Greeks, dating the end of the Mycenaeans in the ninth century, or even as late as the seventh. They noted that the famous supposedly thirteenth century Lion Gate of Mycenae has not quite so refined parallels in Phrygia in the eighth century. Since the Phrygians had not arrived on the scene until the ninth century, their lions could not have been older.

Plainly, Troy was sacked and then not long afterwards Greek poets sang about it. The Etruscans did not get lost for 400 years after leaving Troy c 1150 BC, then arriving in Tuscany c 750 BC. Classical Greek and Roman writers knew of no dark age. Nor for that matter did the ancient Greek and Roman historians say anything about major civilisations of the past like the Sumerians, Akkadians and Old Babylonians. A latter day suggestion is that Sumerian is the language of the Kassites or Chaldeans. Stretching the timescale to provide for Abraham left holes to be filled and they were filled.

From the classical writers, the date of the sacking of Troy must have been around 900 BC, closing most of the gap, and the “dark age!” One scholar, Walter Burkert, has recently concurred. Petrie was wrong because Manetho had not shown overlapping dynasties, and the Sothic calculations were imaginary. By having the start of the eighteenth dynasty in 1270 BC instead of 1570 BC, he easily saved about 300 years from the Egyptian chronology around the beginning of the first millenium and brought the Mycenaeans and Trojans within touch of Homer. The saving of 300 years got rid of these mysterious “dark ages” that had to be postulated, and brought into line many fruitful synchronizations. Despite Torr, Petrie prevailed, but his dates continued to be challenged, until they set themselves in stone.

To account for the dark age gap, the Mycenaean Greeks are supposed to have collapsed and the Greek population fallen to a tenth of its previous population. Drought is blamed—the Great Mycenaean Drought—followed by social unrest and collapse. But 400 years later the skills that such a collapse should have lost returned miraculously in the very form they had before. Not basic skills either, but the refined skills of making luxury goods such as jewelry, carved ivory and fine woven carpets. The styles were continuous. Doubtless there was a drought, but 400 year old droughts that collapse society to nothing then bring them back to their previous form when there is rain do not happen. A shorter drought might have caused the political and social changes noted at this time but the gap in time is an artifact of chronology.

The excavation of Troy ought to be conclusive. Level VIIb at Troy is dated in the twelfth century but the next level, Troy VIII, is dated as 700 BC! These are based respectively on the presence of Mycenaean and Archaic Greek pottery. Plainly the Archaic Greek period cannot have had such a huge gap from the Mycenaean period, and the two levels at Troy display cultural continuity. The key point is that there is no sign of a time lapse. A site abandoned for 300 or 400 years reverts to nature and leaves an obvious layer of decayed vegetation. There is none of this and no trace of any erosion that might have gotten rid of it. The two layers VIIb and VIII are unquestionably adjacent in the ground but in history are 400 years separated! In fact, some Archaic Greek ware is found in the top layers of Troy VIIb! The American C Blegen, in the interwar years, found layers VII and VIII unseparable, but persuaded himself that the earlier layers had been contaminated with pottery from the seventh century.

The great city of Troy seems to have been Troy VI, conventionally destroyed by an earthquake in 1300 BC. That was Schliemann’s view but its conventional date is too early for everybody! Scholars like star TV historian, Michael Wood, say it was well built and had fine towers. The Iliad mentions the horses of Troy, and volumes of horse bones were found in Troy VI. Many implements concerned with textiles suggest it was a major textile centre. Troy VIIa was small and shoddy, had a shantytown, no imported luxuries. Its pots were mainly poor imitations of Myceanaean ware. Troy VI was a “great city,” as Blegen recognized. Michael Wood reports imported Mycenaean pottery and other imported goods throughout Troy VI. Such luxury imports are of such a quantity that trade of this extent implies a direct route between Mycenae and Troy, but trade from Mycenae ceased around 1250 BC on conventional chronology. Wood says the shantytown of Troy VIIA, with its locally made Mycenaean imitations, fell around 1180 BC. The design of Mycenaean tripod stands for vessels did not alter noticeably when they reappeared in Greece in the ninth century despite the 300 year gap. Lowering these dates by several hundred years needs examining.

The dark age extended to the Levant. Cypriot four sided wheeled stands, supposedly twelfth century, are found in eighth century graves. The same design of stand is found in Sardinia in an eighth century context to judge by Italian parallels. Ivories found at Delos matched others found at Mycenae and at Megiddo, and also matched Syrian ivories dated to the eighth century. They had been found associated with eighth century Greek pottery! Tracing the development of Archaic Greek pottery does not allow it to have begun before about 900 BC, at least 200 years after the Mycenaean age. Did the Greeks not make pottery for over 200 years?


In the 1980s, Sy Gitin and Trude Dothan excavated at Tel Miqne-Ekron, thought to have been the site of the city of Ekron, founded by the Philistines. They discovered it was built on a prevuious Canaanite city that had been destroyed.

Cyprus and Canaan could no longer import the Greek pottery called Mycenaean IIIB, and a new similar type of pottery, IIIC1b reflecting the same traditions and skills was made, but neutron activation analysis showed it was local not imported. The “1b” denotes that it was found on Cyprus and the Philistine coast. Archaeologists specializing on Cyprus associate Mycenaean IIIC1b pottery with Achaean refugees fleeing to Cyprus from Greece. At Ashdod and Ekron, this pottery was found directly above the Late Bronze layer.

Excavation revealed a gradual change from Mycenaean IIIC1b to the later Philistine pottery called “bichrome” ware having red and black decorations on a white slip. The shapes and designs are Mycenaean. The excavators assign the time to Rameses III.

The ruins of Ekron reveal a well-planned city some time after the initial settlement. The quality of the distinctive Philistine artifacts deteriorated at a time that the excavators assign to the eleventh century when the Philistines seem to have adopted Egyptian and Phoenician designs for their ceramics. Much of this pottery is based on a red slip. One might imagine that a people’s traditions would last rather longer than the archaeologists seem to imply.

The city was then attacked. The directors of the excavation, using the bible and Egyptian records, decided that the attack was by David or the Egyptians. Thereafter, “a lack of material remains” led the archaeologists to decide that the tenth through eighth centuries BC were “missing.” The city was assumed to have been abandoned for the next 270 years, to about 700 BC. Curiously, at the end of the eighth century BC, after 270 years of dereliction, the city miraculously recovered to be even more prosperous than before, and grew bigger than its former fifty acres, with a substantial defensive wall. For the next century the city was a centre of olive oil production. The Assyrians controlled Philistia until about 630 BC. So, here is yet another “dark age” necessary for the biblicists’ interpretations.

Thirteen four-horned altars uncovered at the site fatuously were said to have been made by Israelite craftsmen for no other reason than that they are mentioned in the bible!

Dismantling the Standard Model

Peter James and the co-authors of Centuries of Darkness wrote that conventional model raised many questions. They thought there was “a strong whiff of unreality” about the dark ages of the ANE that supposedly descended on every civilisation in this region about 1200 BC. From Greece through central Turkey to Nubia, everywhere there was massive depopulation, while skills such as literacy, metallurgy, ivory working and the art of painting pottery are thought to have lapsed or disappeared entirely for anything up to 300 years.

Economic recession is a fact of history, but in this case every strand of evidence—from pottery chronologies to royal inscriptions—argued against the existence of such a long dark age. The evidence seemed to argue that Late Bronze Age civilisation did not end c 1200 BC but more likely around 950 BC when civilisation, and with it all the old skills, revived. What seemed remarkable was the evidence for continuity between the periods before and after the dark ages.

Why did the Nubians, thought to have abandoned urban life in the eleventh century BC, supposedly resettle two centuries later using pottery indistinguishable from that made before they set off on their long nomadic wanderings? Why was the problem encountered at Troy over the same time range? Was central Anatolia really totally depopulated between the twelfth and ninth centuries after the collapse of the Hittite Empire? If the Greeks founded Syracuse in Sicily in 733 BC, after expelling the locals, why are the burned huts of the last pre-Greek inhabitants dated to c 850 BC?

Such conundrums range across the whole of the Mediterranean and Near East and have in common that all depend for their dating on Egypt. Finds of Mycenaean pottery in Egypt enabled prehistoric Greece to be dated. Mycenaean pottery in Sicily, Sardinia, the Balkans and Troy has enabled these diverse regions to be cross-dated with Egyptian chronology. Yet, Egyptian history could be shortened by as much as 250 years.

Research has progressed. That Tell Abu Hawam in Palestine does not provide a fixed point for the dating of Greek Geometric pottery has now been generally accepted. The illogical 120-year gap between the “Cassibile” culture and the earliest Greek colonies in Sicily has conclusively been rejected in a study by Robin Leighton.


Tel Dan Stele 800-825 BC



In Israel, the dating of the first Iron Age settlement in Edom, southern Palestine, has one school of thought placing it in the twelfth century, another in the ninth. In 1992, a Greek krater (bowl) was unearthed at Tel Hadar in Galilee in a level dated by Israeli archaeologists no later than 1000 BC. Yet Greek ceramic experts insist that the vessel dates no earlier than about 900 BC. In 1993, the “House of David” stele was found at Tel Dan in northern Israel, giving the first historical reference outside the Bible to David and his house, but also forcing a profound revision of Israelite archaeology. Rupert Chapman, Executive Secretary of the Palestine Excavation Fund, carefully examined the situation of the find. The stele, which can be historically dated to 825-800 BC came from a level conventionally dated to the tenth or even eleventh centuries BC. It follows that the Tel Dan stone testifies to the falsifying of Israelite history by 200 years.

A dismantling of the standard model for the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt seems to be underway. A 20-year adjustment in twenty second Dynasty chronology and a lowering in the dates for the twenty fifth Dynasty have been put forward in the Journal for Egyptian Archaeology. Two Egyptological reviewers of Centuries of Darkness—John Ray, Reader in Egyptology at Cambridge University, and Aidan Dodson—have now stated in print that Egyptian chronology could be lowered by some 50 years.


Continue: Dating Ancient Near Eastern History (Part II)




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