The New ‘Low Chronology’

Recently, Finkelstein has proposed lowering the dates of the 11th–9th century strata by almost a century. His Low Chronology is based on two foundations, which support both ends of the chronological sequence. The first is ‘the snowball effect’ of the lowering of the dates of the Philistine pottery. The second is a new understanding of the stratigraphy and chronology of several key Iron Age II sites, mainly Megiddo, Jezreel and Beth-shan in the north, and Lachish, Arad and Beer-sheba in the south.

As for the 'upper' anchor, one needs to acknowledge that Monochrome pottery (left), now unanimously accepted as representing the first phase of Philistine settlement in southern Canaan, has not been found in any of the 20th Dynasty Egyptian strongholds which were excavated in that region, and which lasted until the later days of Ramses III and probably even later to the days of Ramses VI (ca. 1135 BCE; as indicated by the presence of a base of his statue at Megiddo).

The opposite is also true: Egyptianizing pottery (right), characteristic of all sites from the days of the 20th Dynasty in the south, was not found in the Monochrome strata. Any claim for contemporaneous, but total cultural and ethnic segregation between the inhabitants of sites located only a few miles away from each other, must be rejected. Indeed, it seems that at two sites – Ashdod and Tel Miqne, there are clues that the Monochrome stratum was built on top of the destroyed 20th Dynasty city.

Thus, the Albright/Alt paradigm which argued that the Philistines were settled by Ramses III in his strongholds in southern Canaan in ca. 1175 BCE must be rejected. The direct archaeological data indicate that the Monochrome strata were established after the collapse of Egyptian rule in southern Canaan. Accordingly, they should be dated to the late 12th century BCE. Thus, the Bichrome Philistine ware, which developed from the Monochrome, was in use in the 11th century and early 10th century BCE. This means that the first strata to postdate the Philistine Bichrome should be dated to the mid-to-late 10th century BCE.

As for the ‘lower’ anchor at Megiddo, the key is Stratum VIA – an elaborate city which was destroyed in a terrible conflagration (right). The most characteristic feature of its ceramic assemblage – according to both the Oriental Institute and the recent Tel Aviv University excavations, is the absence of Philistine Bichrome and collared-rim jars (both types appear in the previous stratum – VIB). Stratum VIA contains only a small amount of ‘degenerated’, or late Philistine pottery. Collared-rim jars (left) were found in Stratum VI in Area CC. The stratigraphy in this area is complicated and the first excavators could not distinguish between the two phases of Stratum VI. It is possible that the jars originated in Stratum VIB, or from an early phase of Stratum VI which has so far been traced only in this area. This means that even according to the prevailing chronology, Stratum VIA can hardly be dated in the 11th century BCE. The assemblage of Stratum VIA is the last at Megiddo to contain ‘Canaanite’ motifs; thus the desperate attempts to date it prior to the time of the United Monarchy.

The pottery of the next two strata in the Megiddo sequence – the poor Stratum VB and the monumental Stratum VA-IVB, is very different: Nearly all ‘Canaanite’ features disappear, and typical Iron Age II types were introduced. A meaningful time lapse between the ceramic horizons of Strata VIA and VB is needed, hardly allowing one to place the latter before the very late 10th-century. This pushes Stratum VA-IVB into the early 9th century BCE.

An interesting support to this chronological construct has recently emerged from Ussishkin and Woodhead’s excavations at Tel Jezreel. The pottery assemblage from the compound dated to the Omrides was found to be similar to that of Stratum VA-IVB at Megiddo. Thus, the two sites were destroyed at the same time, most probably in the mid-9th century. This traps Stratum VA-IVB at Megiddo into a relatively narrow chronological slot – in the first half of the 9th century BCE.

In the southern part of the country the key site is Tel Arad, the location of ‘Great Arad’ of the Shishak inscription at Karnak. The excavators of the site suggested identification of the stratum destroyed by Shishak with the first fortress built there in Stratum XI. But Zimhoni and Mazar, who examined the pottery of Arad in view of later, well-dated assemblages from Judah, concluded that Stratum XI is later than the 10th century BCE. Consequently, the only stratum which can be associated with the Shishak campaign is Stratum XII. This means that Stratum XI at Arad and the contemporary Stratum V at Beer-sheba – the first Iron Age fortifications in the Beer-sheba Valley (in fact in the entire territory of Judah), were built in the 9th century BCE.

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