Reconstructing Ancient (Biblical) Israel:
The Exact and Life Sciences Perspective
This is an appeal for cooperation in the scope of a new research
project described below. The call is directed at archaeologists
carrying out excavations at Late Bronze Age and Iron Age sites in
Israel and neighboring countries (mainly Jordan).
The project, titled `Reconstructing Ancient (Biblical) Israel: The
Exact and Life Sciences Perspective' (hereafter Ancient Israel
Project), is funded by the European Research Council. The Advance
Grant of ca. three million Euros was awarded to Israel Finkelstein of
the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University (Principal
Investigator) and Steve Weiner of the Kimmel Center for
Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Co
Investigator). The project is planned for five years. Work began on
February 1, 2009.
Below please find a short abstract which introduces the project and
specifies the ten research-tracks which are included in it.
We are writing to seek your cooperation in the following
B2. Geo-archaeology: We are looking for sites with four-room houses
that are planned for excavation in the coming months/years. We wish
to take samples of sediments from these sites during excavation. We
are also looking for survey sites which can be interpreted as
representing pastoral activity, e.g., a few sherds with no evidence
of permanent construction.
E1. Residue analysis: We are looking for unwashed Iron Age vessels
from past excavations, mainly storage jars, or sites where Iron Age
vessels are expected to be retrieved in near-future excavations.
C2. Metallurgy: We are looking for sites with evidence of
We are proposing cooperation along the following lines: 1)
the research (but not the excavation) will be funded by the Ancient
Israel Project; 2) the excavator will take part in the research and
in the publication of the results for his/her site; 3) in addition to
publication in scholarly journals, an article on the results will be
submitted to the given site's final report. The given site's results
will be incorporated in the broader scope of the project.
If you can help us, or if you have questions, we would be
grateful if you would write to us or to Shirly Ben Dor
) and Yuval Gadot (ygadot@...
) who are
helping in the management of the project.
Israel Finkelstein and Steve Weiner
The study of Ancient Israel's texts (the Hebrew Bible), material
culture and history has been a keystone of European scholarship since
the Enlightenment. Biblical exegesis and archaeology contributed
impressively to our understanding of Ancient Israel. Yet, in certain
areas conventional research has reached a stalemate. With very few
real-time historical records, with the biblical testimony written a
long time after the events described (if not mythical) took place,
and with the strong theological agenda of both the original authors
and some modern scholars, reconstructing the world of Ancient Israel
is a complex matter.
The exact and life sciences are not restricted by these
preconceptions and are able to reveal data that is not visible to the
naked eye. Advances made in the last decade in archaeological science
show that this is the wave of the future. The novelty in this
proposal is to deploy an arsenal of 10 research tracks from the exact
and life sciences in order to better understand Ancient Israel:
A. The time of Ancient Israel: A1. Radiocarbon: correlating the
chronology of Ancient Israel with neighboring lands.
B. The genesis of Ancient Israel: B1. Human genetics and paleodiet.
B2. Geo-archaeology: tracking the subsistence economy of Ancient
Israel. B3. Palynology: relating paleoclimate to settlement
C. The life of Ancient Israel: C1. Ceramic petrography:
reconstructing trade patterns. C2. Metallurgy: tracking technological
D. The mind of Ancient Israel: D1. Daily mathematics of dimensions:
pottery and architecture. D2. Epigraphy: the use of advanced
computational methodologies (e.g., artificial intelligence
algorithms) in the study of writing in Israel and Judah.
E. The identity of Ancient Israel: E1. Residue analysis of pottery
vessels, and- E2. Archaeo-zoology; both aim at elucidating diet,
foodways and possibly identity boundaries.
This project has the potential to revolutionize the study of Ancient
Israel. Such a broad research plan in the realm of archaeology and
the sciences, focused on a single period/theme, has never been
The project will be directed by Israel Finkelstein and Steve Weiner,
with the help of Shirly Ben Dor and Yuval Gadot. The different tracks
of the project will be carried out by Elisabetta Boaretto, Alexander
Fantalkin and Eliezer Piasetzky (radiocarbon); Ruth Shahack-Gross and
a post-doc researcher (geoarchaeology); Thomas Litt, Frank Neumann
and Moti Stein (palynology); Yuval Goren and a post-doc researcher
(ceramic petrography); Naama Yahalom and Adi Eliyahu (metallurgy);
Yitzhak Benenson and Elena Zapassky (daily mathematics); Eli
Piasetzky, Benjamin Sass and Arie Shaus (epigraphy); Dvora Namdar
(residue analysis); a post-doc researcher (archaeozoology). The
project will support additional post-doctoral researchers and Ph.D.