While recovering on the night of Valentine’s Day, after returning home from a 900-foot, 50-pound stair-climb training session, I received an exciting Tel Aviv University (TAU) press-release E-mail from Joseph Lauer on a subject near/dear to my “heart”:
It’s about an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS): “Six centuries of geomagnetic intensity variations recorded by royal Judean stamped jar handles” by Erez Ben-Yosef, Michael Millmana, Ron Shaar, Lisa Tauxe, & Oded Lipschits.
First curiosity in the TAU announcement:
“Data obtained from the analysis of well-dated Judean jar handles [indicate] a fluctuating field that peaked during the 8th century BCE.”
It’s well known that the field’s strength has been decaying based on measurements during the past century. In fact, the currently measureable magnetic field of planets is one of the many scientific metrics that indicate our solar system is relatively young, not billions of years old. For example:
For a short overview of Earth’s field with 2 helpful illustrations, see this more recent article where our “Rapidly Decaying Magnetic Field” is #5 of the “10 Best Evidences From Science That Confirm a Young Earth” by Dr. Andrew A. Snelling.
So to say Earth’s field “peaked” in the 8th century BC is misleading in 2 ways. One is that we don’t have enough measurements from around the globe spanning human history to know when it peaked. Another is that the actual publication refers to 2 unusual spikes: one in the 8th century around the time of LMLKs, & another in the 10th century (roughly 980 BC per Fig. 7 in the other article, Earth & Planetary Science Letters 301 (2011) p. 303). Each of these datasets is extremely sparse, so the magnitudes of the spikes are indicative, but don’t necessarily represent the full extent of their respective event.
The article GLARINGLY omits the Depression handles (usually referred to as “thumbprint” marks), which were excavated in mass quantities at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which I speculated in my 2014 NEAS lecture date to the early years of the Israelite monarchy for collecting tithes/offerings to God. One possible reason for the omission is that the mark on those handles did not bear an inscription; however, nor do the CCs & Rosettes used in the study. Another possibility is that the authors did not have, or could not get, access to handles not excavated under the auspices of TAU (though one of the co-authors, Ron Shaar, is from Hebrew University, which co-sponsored the Qeiyafa excavations).
Another anomaly is the statement by lead co-author, Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef: “The field strength of the 8th century BCE […] is the strongest field recorded in the last 100,000 years.”
This misleadingly suggests a direct correlation between the field measurements & chronology; but one of the purposes of this research is to simply correlate the known or presumed dates of archeological artifacts (or geological material such as bricks & slag) with the measurements.
My first reaction to Fig. 1 in the article was to think, “Wow, this test independently confirms the chronological division of LMLKs I proposed 14 years ago!” It shows red & black bars for “Maximum Age Range” & “Likely Age”; however, these are both based on theories, not on data presented in the article. Dr. Ben-Yosef clarifies it this way:
“The period spanned by the jars allowed us to procure data on the Earth’s magnetic field during that time.”
This next statement illustrates another caution regarding the use of magnetic fields for dating:
“The improved Levantine archaeomagnetic record can be used to date pottery and other heat-impacted archaeological materials whose date is unknown.”
Like radiometric dating, the method becomes circular without an absolute reference. In this case, LMLKs act as the absolute reference because they’re correlated to the Holy Bible via adjacent archeological strata that connect kings (Hezekiah & Sennacherib) & events (the 2 destructions of Lachish) mentioned therein.
However, like radiometric dating, you can NOT reliably use this method to date anything, because you have no way of knowing whether your item’s material has been reliably preserved. In this particular study, only 74% of the samples initially submitted “passed the threshold values of the criteria used to establish paleomagnetic reliability“. Furthermore, only “27 out of the 67 samples measured yielded reliable paleomagnetic results.” In other words, only 40%–less than half.
Facts notwithstanding, according to Dr. Ben-Yosef:
“The new data can […] provide an excellent, accurate dating reference for archaeological artefacts.”
I like optimism, but not when it masks contradictory facts. As demonstrated conclusively via rock samples collected from firmly dated geologic events (e.g., Mt. St. Helens & New Zealand), radiometric dating is a game of craps disguised as a science.
That being said (& yes, I feel much better getting that & the 50 pounds of weights off my chest), I’m grateful to Dr. Ben-Yosef for making his PNAS paper available via his Academia account.
The only other major gripes I have about the article are the completely erroneous timeline for Rosettes in Fig. 1 (rectified by Table 1), & the misidentification of 2 of the LMLKs used in this study that may represent chronologically distinct periods: JH12a is identified as “IIa mmst” but is actually an M2D, & JH21e is identified as “IIb mmst”, but is actually an M2U. Another misidentification that doesn’t adversely impact the findings is JH20a, identified as “IIc mmst” but is actually a G2T. Some of the Rosettes are not even classified. Sloppy work, so I didn’t bother scrutinizing any of the Personals, Lions, YEUDs, or YRSLMs.
Minor gripes are the poor photographs by Pavel Shrago that don’t necessarily highlight important features of the seal inscriptions, when it would’ve been fairly easy to orient the light to do that. The inconsistent orientation of the photos also has complete disregard for the inscriptions. In fact the photo of JH11a (RR2294/1) is a completely mirrored image (evident even if you’re unfamiliar with the seals because the metric scale is backwards).
And my last but not least gripe, an asterisked footnote to Table 1 states that a 2016 article (which I have not read) by Nadav Na’aman “argues for a likely start date at ca. 715 BCE” for LMLKs Ia, Ib, & IIa; but this misleadingly disregards other respected scholars (Ussishkin, Barkay, & Vaughn) who believe all LMLKs & Privates predate the Assyrian destruction layer.
A multitude of news-based websites posted their own versions of the press release, but for the most part were just truncations of it by C-student journalists. I’ll list several that were probably written by B- & possibly even A-students.
From Haaretz, the website that insists on cramming as much unrelated content onto your computer as possible via sidebars & pop-ups, “Ancient Judean Jar Handles Prove the Earth’s Magnetic Field Won’t Kill Us All” by Ruth Schuster. As annoying as the unrelated material is, this article includes some nice photos of Ramat Rahel artifacts provided by Dr. Lipschits: a near-perfect H2U handle, some near-perfect CCs on a small fragment of a handle, & an overhead shot of a restored jar bearing 2 Yehud handles (a 3rd presumably blank, & a 4th apparently not recovered).
It also contains a 4th photo of an H2D by someone (or something that occasionally has iron weights affixed to it) named Funhistory via Wikimedia. Its inclusion adds no intellectual value to the report, but elevated my spirit with joy, way beyond the 900 feet I had climbed earlier in the evening!
Schuster makes a profound, bold statement about the overall project I never would’ve expected back in 2002 when I began my LMLK research: “It is of interest to all scientists…” How cool is that?!?!
“TAU and HU scientists: Weakening of Earth’s magnetic field is not new” by Judy Siegel & Daniel K. Eisenbud for The Jerusalem Post.
“Judean archeological find proves fluctuating geomagnetic field” by Mordechai Sones for Arutz Sheva / Israel National News.
“Ceramic Pottery Reveals an Ancient Geomagnetic Field Spike” by Stephanie Pappas for Live Science.
“Biblical artifacts provide reassurance about Earth’s magnetic field” by Bradley J. Fikes for The San Diego Union-Tribune. His article not only includes the chart of the jar-handles arranged chronologically (PNAS Fig. 1), but also the top of LMLK jar 10091 from Lachish. Unfortunately he makes a false statement out of ignorance of the iconography, “There was no exalted religious significance to the artifacts themselves…” I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see any images of winged lights or starbursts on any of the IRS tax forms I filed last month! Aside from that minor glitch, I’m thrilled that he linked to the LMLK Research Website with an accurate statement about the seals, “A great amount of research has been done on their significance.”
I don’t subscribe to the fake News published by the failing New York Times, but even they published a free mobile version of their article, “Ancient Jars Hold Clues About Earth’s Fluctuating Magnetic Fields” by Kenneth Chang.
“Iron Age Potters Carefully Recorded Earth’s Magnetic Field — By Accident” by Rae Ellen Bichell for NPR. She provides a longer quotation by Ben-Yosef not reported in the other articles concerning the Iron Age spike: “It was the strongest it’s been, at least in the last 100,000 years, but maybe ever.”
She also includes comments from Steven Forman of Baylor University, whose research indicated a similar spike around 3k years ago in Texas:
“When dealing with such large-scale phenomena, we don’t usually think it can occur within a few decades. We usually think it would take thousands or tens of thousands of years,” Forman says. The finding, he adds, “opens up a big can of worms” because researchers just don’t know how or why that would happen. So there’s something missing about scientists’ concept of goings on in the Earth’s core.
Hmm. Do we know of any anomalous global events that occurred around this time?
“Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days 15 years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that He hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, 10 degrees backward. So the sun returned 10 degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.”–Isaiah 38:4
Earth’s magnetic field protects it from solar wind & cosmic rays, particularly those from the sun. Significantly more sunlight on one occasion would warrant the need for a counter-amount of magnetic field strength, at least on one side of the planet. Of course God could just as easily have worked the overt miracle while performing a covert one that simultaneously protected the planet from excessive radiation. Unfortunately, this explanation cannot account for the multi-year duration of the spike, nor the 10th-century spike (assuming the scientists dated it properly); but if true, it would also mean we should expect a bigger spike several centuries earlier that would’ve coincided with Joshua’s famous long, sunny day while defending Gibeon.
The PNAS authors conclude by noting similar spikes found in nearby regions ca. 3k years ago, but caution that such short events “can be easily missed” by researchers. On the “sunny” side, there’s pottery from all over the world that dates many centuries older (especially cuneiform tablets), so one day scientists might be able to reconstruct a more-detailed timeline of these magnetic markers. SD Tribune reporter, Fikes said PNAS co-author Tauxe is currently studying “places where iron was smelted in association with the ancient and renowned temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.” That’s very encouraging to hear!