Some dating issues

14 Sep 2010

The New Chronology Yahoo Group forum has had the big guns posting during September - David Rohl, Bernard Newgrosh and Bob Porter for example. The issue that has caught their interest - the missing archaeology of the Persian Period. This is probably one of the really weak spots in conventional archaeology and ably exploited by  Emmett Sweeney elsewhere. Bob Porter kicks off by commenting on a new book by Briant and Bascharlot on Achaemenid archaeology (the articles are written in a mixture of French and English) and the claim is made Assyrian style pottery persisted long after the demise of the Assyrian Empire leading to a review of some of the dating as it effects other sites in the Middle East. Hence, such artifacts could date anywhere between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. In practise, as far as Jerusalem and Palestine are concerned, one constraint is on the identification of the strata to be attributed to Nebuchadnezzar and the subsequent abandonment as prophesied by Jeremiah. What I found interesting is that the city of Ashur appeared to be a flourishing town as late as the Persian era. In Iran, Iron III has been assumed to be 7th century which has led to a gaping hiatus at the time of the Achaemenids - in what was Persia itself (although the royal centres of Persepolis and Pasargadae are reasonably well known). The same is true of Luristan - a hiatus in occupation. Iron IV is regarded as Late Achaemenid or even post Achaemenid, which should mean Iron III coincides largely with the Persians of the 6th/5th centuries. For example, a group of 300 tablets found at Susa are dated to 600BC on the basis of Iron III pottery and by their script - and yet one of them belongs to the reign of Darius (500BC).

The email thread then expands to placing this in the context of Judah and Israel - and the dating of the Stables strata at Samaria. IVA, it is suggested, could be redated to the Assyrian regional capital (late 8th/early 7th centuries BC) with strata VA/IVB  to mid to early 8th century and strata VI to that of the Omrides. This would infer the Solomonic era belongs to strata VIII or VIIB - or that is what the advocates of a revised chronology indicate.

An earlier subject was the Assyrian attack on Carchemish in year 9 of Mursilis II. It seems that both the orthodox and the new chronologies may have a problem with an active Assyria at the time of Mursilis II and so a new view that disputes Assyrian intervention in Syria at this time is being seen as complimentary in some ways to the new chronologies. The problem is that by identifying the rebels as acting on their own volition this would seem to go against the mind-set of treaties of vassalage, made between the gods of the vassal and the gods of the conquerer. Hittite vassals in rebellion should actually refer to vassals changing political allegiance - usually by the intervention of a third party that removes the recumbent king and places a successor of their choice on the throne duly equipped with a new treaty of vassalage. Hence, the normal interpretation, a Hittite vassal state rebelled as a result of the arrival of an Assyrian army is in full accord with the politics of the period - and therefore year 9 must correspond with a campaign of an Assyrian king. In the orthodox model this could be accomplished simply by relating the events of year 2 and year 9 of Mursilis II with the known campaigns of Adad Nirari I in the region. To do this it would be necessary to shift the long reign of Ashur Uballit forward by around 20 years - making his rebellion against Tushratta somewhat late in his reign (and indicating he remained loyal to the faction in Mitanni opposed to Tushratta, whose sons made solicitations to Suppiluliumas). The benefit of this little shift is that the plague of Suppiluliumas becomes contemporary with the Amarna plague and a similar event in Babylon in the final stages of the reign of Ashur Uballit. Plague and epidemics are an underrated feature of the past - and the political repercussions. Therefore, it is not neccessary to interpret the Annals of Mursilis quite as negatively as proposed on this thread, and the case against the orthodox chronology is not as secure as suggested.

On a different thread there is a discussion on the Monarchy period - particularly the era of David and Solomon - and this includes a bit of Finkelstein bashing (and the general tone of The Bible Unearthed). Finkelstein and Silberman cast doubt on the actual existence of a united kingdom and said that Judah was sparsely inhabited at the time and it could not have dominated the bigger and more populous northern kingdom. They reached this conclusion as they could not see any archaeological evidence at Jerusalem for this important period - which was assigned to Iron Age IB. One email claims there is evidence Israel as an entity existed during the 18th dynasty and Amenhotep actually mentions Yahweh - but basically Finkelstein's argument is thin as by moving forward Iron IIA by 50 years or so he creates a hiatus - and there is no strata wherein to accommodate a united kingdom. Basically, he failed to move forward earlier strata preceding Iron IIA and left them in their orthodox position - but this was the wrong thing to do, but understandable as Finkelstein was only considering Palestianian archaeology and not that of it's neighbours. Still, he should have relocated Iron IB and Iron IA, but if he had he would have come up against the Greek Dark Age. Once again this period sticks out like a sore thumb, a point picked out in subsequent forum contributions. For example, archaeology appears to show that Mycenaean Greek sites were abandoned at the end of the LB Age and this was followed by a phase of population movement overseas. At the same time, or shortly afterwards, there was a movement southwards of the Dorians that replaced the Mycenaeans, or mingled with the survivors. In the David Rohl scenario it is after the Dorian migration (or invasion as some sources claim) that Greeks moved into Western Anatolia (which became Ionia), and variously the southern tip of Italy, the island of Cyprus, and no doubt various other locations in the mid to eastern Mediterranean. So, was there two migrations of Greeks - as imagined by orthodoxy as the Ionians appear on the scene some centuries after the demise of Mycenae. The New Chronology position on this is challenged - why was there not just the one movement of people. However, the problem is not really that of the New Chronology, but that of archaeology. The Mycenaean palace period closed with the final stages of LHIIIB - but did they migrate at that point in time? LHIIIC1 followed for roughly 30 years, maybe a little more, or a little less, but it is marked by another round of destruction layers at various sites in the Aegean (and further afield) - so we have a double whammy. In some manner the Dorians are involved as they moved south at some point during this melee of upheavals. At the same time the Achaeans and other Greeks and their neighbours were also set on the move - and a large amount of speculation concerns why this happened. It makes sense for the Greeks to have founded Ionia on the backs of the site destructions that also occurred in western Anatolia (and virtually everywhere in the eastern Mediterranean world from the Levant to the Aegean and from Cappadocia and SE Anatolia to Philistia). However, the Greek Dark Age hampers such a simple explanation - and as Iron I is closely associated with LHIIIC2, therein lies the problem in the context of David and Solomon. A problem ignored by Finkelstein. There is also another problem - what if the site destructions were caused by an earthquake storm as proposed by Amos Nur (as long ago as the SIS Cambridge Conference on Bronze Age Destructions, and more recently in his book, Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God). Within the thread there is a lively debate on what caused the site destructions which is interesting to read, if only to realise how difficult it is for some people to think in terms of violent acts of nature as a factor in the past. Whatever happened, invasion or an influx of refugees, the problem is did the newcomers then fade into oblivion for a few hundred years - or is the Dark Age largely a hiatus created by a failure of chronology to join up the dots. Not only that but do the new chronologies (of James and of Rohl) accommodate upheaval of the kind as perceived by Nur and others?

Finally, there is another thread worth looking at, on the identity of the Shosenk, the son of the marraige between an Osorkon and a daughter of Psusennes II, Maatkare. Bob Porter appears to favour Osorkon III rather than Osorkon I as this provides room for an extensive overlap between dynasty 21 and 22, but avoids spelling out how exactly all those HPAs of both dynasties are to be accommodated amicably. It would of course take a long time to spell out such a sequence and this is an email thread not a lengthy article. One interesting aspect of such a realignment might be that Psusennes I could be seen as a contemporary of Shoshenk I - but I'll leave you to figure out when that might have been.