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The ancient city of Jericho has been one of the most debated issues in the discussion of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. The major problem with the correlation between the Israelite destruction during the conquest of Jericho and the archaeological findings of the destruction of the final Bronze Age city of Jericho has been the date. Many who argue that the city was not even occupied during the Israelite Conquest appeal to Carbon-14 dates to validate claims that the city was destroyed and abandoned 150 years earlier. Carbon-14 dating began to play a role in the debate about the date during the 1990s, after excavation reports from the Kenyon expedition had finally been published. When the Bronze Age city of Jericho was destroyed by a fire, the burned grain and wood was carbonized, preserving some of it in the destruction layer (Kenyon, Kathleen. Digging Up Jericho, London, 1957, 261). This destruction layer, and various bits of charred grain and wood was excavated by archaeologists and sent to laboratories to establish a C-14 date. The date of the destruction of the final Bronze Age city of Jericho has been a subject of controversy over the last 100 years, and unfortunately the C-14 samples have not settled that controversy. In an article discussing the destruction of Jericho City IV, archaeologist Bryant Wood presented a sample that initially “was dated to 1410 B.C.E., plus or minus 40 years, lending further support that the destruction of City IV occurred around the end of the Late Bronze I period, about 1400 B.C.E.” (Wood, Bryant. “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” BAR 16:2 (1990): 44-58, 53). This carbon-14 sample taken at Jericho had been analyzed by the laboratory at the British Museum for the publications of the excavations under Kathleen Kenyon, and the laboratory initially found a date of 1410 BC +/- 40 (Kenyon, K, and Holland, TA. Excavations at Jericho V. London: British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem, 1983, 763). However, it was discovered years later that the result of this sample testing was incorrect, and was later reissued on a list of erroneous dates due to a problem with equipment calibration at the laboratory for the years 1980-1984. The dates were corrected to 3300 +/- 110 BP, (Bowman, G.E., Ambers, J., Leese, M.N. “Re-Evaluation of British Museum Radiocarbon Dates Issued Between 1980 and 1984.” Radiocarbon 32, 1990, 74, BM-1790) which calibrates to approximately 1883-1324 BC, rendering the resulting C-14 date useless for settling the debate between a destruction in ca. 1550 BC or ca. 1400 BC (Using http://calib.qub.ac.uk/calib/calib.html). Another C-14 sample from this same destruction layer at Jericho gave results of 3300 +/- 7 BP, which calibrates to approximately 1618-1530 BC (Bruins, HJ and van der Plicht, J. “Tell es-Sultan (Jericho): Radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age.” Radiocarbon Vol. 37 (1995), 213–220). This sample gave results surrounding the date of destruction advocated by Kathleen Kenyon (ca. 1550 BC), but was only one of many samples taken from the Jericho destruction. In 2000, the current Italian excavation team under Lorenzo Nigro tested two samples that were excavated from a building appearing to contain debris from the final destruction of the Bronze Age city that had washed down to the bottom of the tell. The dates given from the two samples were 1347 BC +/-85 and 1597 BC +/-91, giving an overall range for these two C-14 dates as 1688-1262 BC (Marchetti , Nicolo and Nigro, Lorenzo, eds. Quaderni di Gerico 2, 2000, 206-207, 330, 332). The first of these dates fits roughly around the proposed 1400 BC destruction, while the other is closer to the proposed 1550 BC destruction. Yet, again these dates are so broad that they are useless in contributing to solving the problem for the date of destruction. Overall, the C-14 dates from the destruction of the Bronze Age city of Jericho range from as high as 1883 BC to as low as 1262 BC—a range of over 600 years. The archaeological dispute is only divided by about 150 years. It is known that there are serious problems in relating C-14 dates in ancient Israel to the established ceramic, epigraphic, and historical chronologies (Levy, T.E and Higham, T.F.G, eds. “Introduction: Radiocarbon dating and the Iron Age of the Southern Levant: Problems and potentials for the Oxford conference,” in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science. 2005, London: Equinox; Mazar, A. and Bronk Ramsey, C., “C14 Dates and the Iron Age chronology of Israel: a response,” Radiocarbon, 50(2), 2008: 159-180). This is why dating by means of ceramic typology (pottery) is still the primary and most trusted method in the archaeology of this region in the ancient periods. Even if there were no issues with C-14 dating, the samples coming from charcoal in a burn layer may be from burned wooden beams cut from trees that were harvested over 100 years prior to their destruction. Quality wood in ancient Israel was rare and expensive, usually imported from the forests of Lebanon, and thus often reused again and again until it was rotten, broken, or destroyed. With perfect C-14 dating, this would still result in a date 100 years before the destruction occurred. Grain samples should be much more reliable in terms of their harvest date, but as one can see from the Jericho samples, the ranges given are not nearly specific enough to settle a debate between a destruction layer dated to either 1550 BC or 1400 BC. Instead, ceramic typology and various forms of epigraphic evidence should be the primary methods of dating a particular layer of a site from the Bronze or Iron Ages, which is the norm in the archaeology of ancient Israel. Thus, the C-14 dates so far published from Jericho are all irrelevant in terms of establishing a destruction date. The reliable data from both the ceramic chronology (pottery types) from the destruction layer, and the Egyptian scarabs and seal from tombs, indicate that Jericho was occupied in the 15th century BC, and came to an end in a destruction by fire sometime around 1400 BC.

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