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Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’

Satellite image of Durupinar formation

Durupinar site. Credit: Google Earth.

Have researchers proven that this formation in Turkey is the resting place of the massive Ark that was used to save the Biblical patriarch Noah, his family, and many animals from a worldwide catastrophe?

Not long ago, a friend posted on Facebook a link to the article “Noah’s Ark Has Been Found. Why Are They Keeping Us In The Dark?” on the website of Joe the Plumber. The byline identifies the author of the article as Dan Eden, possibly a pen name for activist Rodney Lee Conover (a link to his Facebook page appears at the end of the article).

Joe the Plumber became a kind of political icon during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.  The article’s appearing on Joe’s website evidently lends the topic credibility for some readers.

The article shines a light on a fascinating chapter in the story of “arkeology,” the search for the remains of Noah’s Ark. I think it also points to some useful questions about scientific research, and our relationship with subject-matter experts: Should we only give credence to the findings of those with professional credentials, or should knowledgeable amateur researchers get a listening ear as well?

The Dan Eden article discusses the formation known as the Durupinar site, a stone structure found in the mountains of eastern Turkey near the border with Iran. The Durupinar formation consists of a ridge of rock protruding from the ground, describing an oval shape with one end pointed in a way that suggests the prow of a ship. For decades, the Durupinar formation has been promoted by enthusiasts as the true site of Noah’s Ark and proof of the Bible’s account of a global deluge, given at Genesis chapters six through nine.

The question whether the remains of Noah’s Ark still exist interests me and my readers (I think), because my Biblical fiction series, The Cursed Ground, takes place in the ancient world before its destruction by a worldwide flood. Whether the Bible account is literally true or not is, in a way, irrelevant to the fictional world I’m developing. It’s fiction, after all. But the historicity of Bible accounts is certainly of interest to many thinking persons, and the ancient story of a society destroyed by a global catastrophe is relevant in a moral and religious sense, and perhaps also to those concerned about the environmental problems facing humanity today.

What Evidence Has Been Found at the Durupinar Site?

The evidence presented by Dan Eden is based on the work of amateur explorer and archaeological researcher Ronald Eldon “Ron” Wyatt (1933-1999). Eden cites several claims by Wyatt in support of the Durupinar site as the Ark’s resting place, including the following:

  • The length of the Durupinar formation is 515 feet, or 300 Egyptian cubits; its average width is 50 cubits. These are the same as the dimensions of the Ark, mentioned in the Biblical account at Gen 6:15. The Bible describes the Ark as rectangular; Eden claims that this only refers to the upper levels of the structure, and that the vessel required a boat-like hull “to enable the huge ship to remain stable in the water and survive tremendous waves.”
  • On the side of the structure can be seen a series of vertical bulges corresponding to ribs of a ship’s hull.
  • Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) revealed a structure under the mud, with regular, “periodic” placements that showed them to be human-made structural elements.
  • A core sample into the structure obtained a lump of petrified animal dung, a petrified antler, and a sample of cat hair.
  • A piece of petrified wood discovered at the site proved to be a large beam made from three planks laminated together with organic glue.
  • Using metal detectors, Wyatt unearthed what he described as a disk-shaped hammered metal rivet, containing iron, aluminum, and titanium.
  • Some miles from the Durupinar structure can be found a number of large, heavy stones with holes carved in them. Wyatt proposed that these were anchor stones used to stabilize the great ship, and that the holes were used to tie the stones to the ark with ropes.

 

Object purported to be a metal rivet

Purported rivet found by Ron Wyatt.

 

Durupinar is possibly the best-known of several sites that enthusiasts have proposed for the remains of Noah’s Ark. The idea that the Ark might still exist fires the imagination of many who take the Bible seriously. In Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (ed. David N. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1999), historian Larry Eskridge writes about the phenomenon of “arkeology” and its connection to contemporary religion:

The hunt for the ark, like evangelicalism itself, is a complex blend of the rational and the supernatural, the modern and the premodern. While it acknowledges a dept to pure faith in a literal reading of the Scriptures and centuries of legend, the conviction that the ark literally lies on Ararat is a recent one, backed by a largely twentieth-century canon of evidence that includes stories of atheistic conspiracy, and pieces of questionable “ark wood” from the mountain. Fortified by grassroots creationist networks and the publicity of a string of articles, books, movies, and television specials, the quest for the ark has spawned a network of committed “arkeologists,” thousands of dedicated supporters, and legions of the just plain convinced. (245)

Eskridge quotes clergyman Timothy Francis “Tim” LaHaye, expressing a powerful theological motivation for finding the Ark:

[H]umanistic ideas would have to change if Noah’s Ark were ever discovered … [A] successful search would ring the death knell to the already fragile theory of evolution … [W]e would be reminded of God’s past method of purging the world of sinful people and our attention would be focused on God’s promise of another judgment in the very near future. (251)

 

Photo of Durupinar formation

Durupinar formation. Credit: Tuấn Lê, via Google Maps.

Wyatt’s assertions about the Durupinar site have been widely popularized among religious audiences.

Counterarguments From a Geologist

However, geologist Andrew A. Snelling, now director of research at Answers in Genesis, wrote in 1992 an extensive argument against the claims of Wyatt and collaborator David Fasold. Writing for the journal Creation, Snelling maintained that:

  • “Hot spots” identified by metal detectors at the Durupinar site were randomly distributed, not in any regular pattern, and were attributable to basalt boulders in the mudflow material.
  • The “molecular frequency generator/discriminator” device alleged to have mapped “iron lines” at the site amounts to a dowsing instrument with no scientific value.
  • Ground-penetrating radar did not in fact identify anything like the prow of a ship, as claimed by Wyatt and Fasold. Geophysicist Tom Fenner was falsely quoted to support Wyatt’s claims, and said, “I was surprised and dismayed to learn that Mr. Wyatt was using my name as well as the name of Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. (GSSI) in order to lend credibility to his unsubstantiated claims concerning the so-called ‘Noah’s Ark site.'”
  • The vertical bulges supposedly forming the ribs of a ship were just hardened mud and boulders, lined with erosion gullies and containing no petrified wood.
  • Contrary to Wyatt’s claims, very little petrified wood has been found at the Durupinar site. The segment claimed to be a deck timber of laminated planks has actually been identified as basalt; a laboratory report cited as proof actually did not test the sample in a way that could identify it as petrified wood.
  • Soil samples from the site contain just the kinds of metals to be expected in soil developed from basalt, not from forged materials; carbon at the site is in mineral form, not the organic form expected from decayed wood.
  • The object described by Wyatt as a metal rivet only exhibited a vaguely round shape. Lab tests “returned results consistent with the chemical composition of the major local rock type, basalt,” writes Snelling.  The object was not subjected to any testing capable of identifying the kind of exotic metallurgy claimed by Wyatt.
  • Wyatt claimed that Turkish archaeologists found a series of metal rods like cotter pins, but Wyatt himself is the only source for this claim, and a leading researcher from the Turkish teams denied this and other claims by Wyatt.
  • Fossilized animal materials found at Durupinar came only from the “walls” of the purported structure, not from deep within it. In any case, points out Snelling, “the finding of such animal residues in association with the site is hardly surprising when one considers that animals are likely to have roamed across these Turkish hillsides for thousands of years anyway.”
  • The stone slabs found in the region and proposed as anchor stones have no proven connection to the Durupinar formation itself, or to the Biblical account of the Ark.

Snelling’s article summarizes the results of a professional geophysical survey of the Durupinar site, which has revealed a thoroughly natural geological explanation for the formation. As far as the formation’s resembling a boat, he writes:

The boat-shape is situated in a sloping valley and is surrounded by deposits of loose soil and crushed rock which is slowly sliding down hill, flowing much as a glacier flows — a mudflow. As we have seen, the stable area around which this mudflow material flows is an uplifted block and erosional remnant of basement rock, including limestone and basalt. Just as water flows around a rock in a river bed, the site has acquired a streamlined shape due to the dynamics of the slowly flowing mud.

Difficulties of Relying on Experts

Associates and admirers of Ron Wyatt, who died in 1999, have continued to argue in favor of his research at the Durupinar site. A set of “frequently asked questions” by an organization called Ark Discovery International presents counterarguments against Snelling and other critics. An interesting but unattributed article titled “The Results of the Subsurface Imaging Project of Noah’s Ark” presents a number of images and comments based on a “resistivity imaging” study done at Durupinar in 2014. John Larsen is named as the person conducting the scans for these images, but his qualifications are not mentioned.

I find Snelling’s refutation persuasive, in part because of his thorough examination of the evidence, but admittedly also because of his professional credentials. However, should every amateur like Wyatt be disregarded simply for not having academic credentials?

And what about these newer subsurface images by Larsen? I looked at them but couldn’t do much more than scratch my head. When faced with complicated technical information and conflicting claims from purported experts, what is the thinking person to do?

I would say, keep an open mind but don’t be credulous.

Just because the evidence has cast doubt on one proposed site for the Ark’s remains does not mean that the Bible account is not historical. Archaeological evidence, free from biased interpretation, has never disproved the scriptural account of the past. But archaeological findings are of necessity fragmentary. Human structures and remains deteriorate quickly, and the older they are, the more likely they are to disappear entirely. In the case of Noah’s Ark, we are considering a wooden structure that existed more than 4,000 years ago. One might wish that such remains could be found, but there’s no virtue in fooling yourself.

For further discussions of archaeology as it relates to Bible history, please see the following articles:

Has Archaeology Proven That the Biblical Exodus Is a Myth?

Oxford scholar: Egyptian history is ‘a collection of rags and tatters’

How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?

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Many educated people take it as a given that the Exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt, as described in the Bible, is simply a legend. After all, that’s the claim of prominent archaeologists working in Egypt and Palestine. For example, in 1999, Ze’ev Herzog, professor of archaeology (now retired) at Tel Aviv University, wrote in Haaretz:

[T]he Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.

(“Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho,” Haaretz, Oct. 29, 1999)

This view is held by a great many dedicated, sincere researchers. Understandably, many thinking people take such assertions as fact.

patternssmallHowever, even though the fictionality of the Exodus is taken for granted in mainstream academia and much of the educated public, this is not a universal view. I’ve recently come across a remarkably well-developed body of research that is worth considering by the thinking person.

American filmmaker Timothy P. Mahoney has put together an excellent film called Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, along with a book of the same name (I will reference here some page numbers from Mahoney’s book). I would strongly encourage open-minded people to see this film (the film is available at Netflix) and consider reading the book for much more detail (the book is available at Amazon in print and Kindle format).

The authenticity of the books of the Pentateuch (the first five books included in modern Bibles and attributed traditionally to Moses) is controversial for many reasons, often ideological. I care about the issue of the Bible’s authenticity, as it has religious implications. However, I’m also interested in the question as a writer of Biblical fiction. It’s possible to write the stories of The Edhai even if the literary sources are mythology. But if they are authentic history, that does add some weight to the stories themselves, as they then become historical fiction.

The evidence considered by Mahoney in his film and book is too extensive to consider entirely here. However, here are some points that I found salient and interesting:

Most mainstream researchers erroneously place the Exodus in the 13th century B.C.E.

Statue of Ramesses II

Statue of Ramses II, Luxor., n.d., This slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Goodyear. Brooklyn Museum Archives (S10.08 Luxor, image 9925).

Archaeological and historical researchers generally assume the year 1250 B.C.E. as the working date for the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. During that Late Bronze Age (LBA) period, they find no extra-Biblical evidence for an extensive Israelite presence in Egypt; or for a calamitous national collapse in Egypt; or for a massive departure of Israelite slaves from Egypt; or for a subsequent sudden destruction of Canaanite cities a few decades later, due to invading Israelites.

Researchers have traditionally focused on the 1250 B.C.E. date because this would place the Exodus during the reign of the powerful pharaoh Ramesses II, credited with the building of a city of that name. Exodus 1:11 says that the enslaved Israelites built a city called Raamses, so many researchers have asserted that the purported Exodus should be placed in the time period of Ramesses II. Mahoney calls this the Ramesses Exodus Theory (page 84).

However, Mahoney points out that Biblical chronology places the Exodus much earlier than 1250 B.C.E. His Chapter 8, “Challenging the Ramesses Exodus Theory,” (pages 189-217) presents multiple lines of evidence pointing to an Exodus two hundred years earlier, about 1450 B.C.E. Other researchers have argued for even earlier dates, such as 1513 B.C.E [see my article “When Did Moses (or Somebody) Write Genesis?“]

Fixing on the 1250 B.C.E. date for a purported Exodus means that archaeological researchers are going to be looking in the wrong time periods for a Semitic presence in Egypt, a sudden departure of a large slave population from the country, and a devastating invasion of Canaan forty years later. In fact, archaeological evidence for such events lines up much better with an earlier date for the Exodus. The connection of Ramesses II with the city mentioned in Ex 1:11 assumes that the name Raamses couldn’t have been used for the name of a city in earlier times. Insisting on such a connection seems unreasonable, especially considering the problems around the chronology of the ancient world and the fragmentary evidence it’s based on (see my article “Oxford scholar: Egyptian history is ‘a collection of rags and tatters.’”)

Archaeological and historical research reveal a large Semitic presence in Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age

The Biblical chronology would place the Israelites’ residence in Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age (MBA; conventionally dated as 2100-1550 B.C.E.), rather than the Late Bronze Age period proposed by the Ramesses Exodus Theory. Their departure would have been near the end of the MBA and beginning of the LBA.

In fact, archaeologists are currently uncovering an extensive Semitic presence in Egypt during the MBA. One of the important sites in this investigation is the ancient city of Avaris, which is being studied at Tell el-Dab’a in the eastern Nile Delta by an Austrian group led by Egyptologist Manfred Bietak. Mahoney visited the excavation and interviewed Bietak about it (see pages 87-92).

Map of Nile Delta

Map of Lower Egypt and the Nile Delta. The site of Avaris appears in the east delta. Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 3.0

The site covers about 2 square kilometers. It’s the same location where the ancient city of Ramesses is found, but Avaris is being uncovered at a lower (and thus earlier) level. Avaris is thought to have been occupied during the MBA from about 1850-1550 B.C.E. This would fit the Biblical chronology, which has the Israelites in Egypt from about 1728 to 1513 B.C.E., according to one well-known chronology.

Bietak said this to Mahoney about his findings at the Avaris excavation (pages 90-1):

We uncovered the remains of a huge town of 250 hectares with a population of approximately 25,000-30,000 individuals. These were people who have originated from Canaan, Syria-Palestine. Originally they may have come here as subjects of the Egyptian crown or with the blessing of the Egyptian crown. Obviously, this town enjoyed something like a special status, like a free zone, something like that.

Indications are that there are other such settlements of Asiatics from the same period in other areas of Egypt.

Mahoney asked Bietak whether the residents of Avaris could have been Israelites, but Bietak didn’t think so:

We have some evidence of shepherds. We find again and again in this area pits with goats and sheep. So we know shepherds, probably Bedouins, with huge herds roamed around this. But to connect this with the proto-Israelites is a very weak affair.

Why couldn’t these be the Israelites? Bietak responded:

According to my opinion, the settlement of the proto-Israelites in Canaan only happened from the 12th century BC onwards.

So Avaris is too early, according to the mainstream view, because of researchers’ ironic adherence to the Ramesses Exodus Theory.

Mahoney presents other interesting findings in his film and book, some more compelling than others. One of the more fascinating findings is a document called the Brooklyn Papyrus, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian papyrus that includes a list of slave names from an estate in southern Egypt (pages 161-3). According to independent scholar David Rohl, 70 percent of the names are Semitic, including some names that actually appear in the Bible, such as Menahem, Issachar, Asher, and Shiphrah — not necessarily the same people from the Bible, but people with the same names.

So why is the list of slave names in the Brooklyn Papyrus not taken by mainstream researchers as supporting evidence for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt? You guessed it: This evidence doesn’t fit the mainstream view that any Israelite presence in Egypt belongs to a later period. The papyrus belongs to the Middle Kingdom, conventionally dated about 2000-1700 B.C.E., associated with the 11th to 13th dynasties.

Rohl told Mahoney (page 163):

Although everybody recognizes that this is a list of Semitic slaves, and everybody recognizes the names appearing in the list are also Israelite names, these can’t be the Israelites, because it’s the wrong time period. The Israelites are [supposedly] much later in history. So these people we’re seeing here in the Brooklyn Papyrus cannot be the Israelites …

So scholars put the text to one side and say it’s another coincidence.

Archaeologists do not find evidence of the sudden destruction of key Canaanite Cities ca. 1200 B.C.E., but there is evidence of an earlier destruction

Many prominent archaeological researchers working in Palestine assert that there is no evidence for the kind of invasion described in the book of Joshua. Some even claim that the Israelites were just a group of Canaanites who emerged from the general population and invented a pious fiction to justify their rulership in the Holy Land.

Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, told Mahoney in an interview (pages 232-3):

First and foremost, many places which are mentioned in Joshua in the Conquest story, specifically mentioned as major places in Canaan, were excavated, and no evidence for a city in the Late Bronze Age has ever been found. And I’m speaking about major excavations. And we are speaking about many sites. It’s systemic; it’s not only a single site. Take the example of Jericho. In Jericho there is no big city the in the 13th century B.C., okay, any way you look at it.

By now, it should jump out at you that Finkelstein is assuming the same 1250 B.C.E. Exodus date common among mainstream researchers, with the purported Conquest coming 40 years later. Paradoxically, many of these same researchers claim that the Exodus story is a legend anyway, so a thinking person might wonder what the point is in relying on the 1250 Ramesses date for an event that supposedly never occurred.

Anyway, some of the minority researchers consulted by Mahoney make the point that there is in fact evidence for the destruction of a number of key Conquest cities much earlier, including Jericho and Hazor.

Archaeological findings suggest that a number of key Canaanite cities were destroyed around the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1550 BCE. From Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, page 252.

Archaeological findings suggest that a number of key Canaanite cities were destroyed around the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1550 BCE. From Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, page 252.

John Bimson, professor of Biblical studies at Trinity College Bristol, tells Mahoney that there is a pattern of destruction of Canaanite cities at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, conventionally dated at 1550 B.C.E. This includes many cities specifically mentioned in the Bible’s Conquest account. Bimson says (page 253):

We know that cities like Jericho and Hazor were major cities at that time, and in both of those cases, those cities were destroyed by fire, as the Bible describes. So if we go to this earlier date, we have a very good fit with a whole list of sites, a good fit between the biblical narrative and the archaeological evidence.

A wrinkle: The conventional chronology for Egypt is problematic.

Conventional chronology of ancient Egypt compared to a revised chronology by David Rohl.

Conventional chronology of ancient Egypt, compared to a revised chronology by David Rohl. via Wikimedia. Click to see the image in full size.

Some sincere researchers are critical of the conventional timeline ascribed to ancient Egypt, which has been standardized for many years and has become an important anchor for the proposed chronologies of other Near East civilizations, including Canaan. Critics have asserted that the Egyptian chronology has been over-inflated, for example, with regard to the Third Intermediate Period, conventionally dated 1069-664 B.C.E.

Mahoney writes (page 272):

[I]t’s been necessary to artificially insert dark periods into the timelines of all the surrounding civilizations, so that they match the dates of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period. Yet some scholars maintain that the archaeology of these cultures does not seem to support such dark periods. They believe something is wrong.

Bimson tells Mahoney:

The 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties are dated too early because the Third Intermediate Period is too long.

Understandably, trying to readjust the timeline would not be a welcome effort among historians and archaeologists who have spent their careers assuming the standard chronology. Certainly, mainstream researchers feel they have solid reasons for not re-examining such assumptions. But the thinking person might keep in mind how hard it is to reconstruct civilizations and events that occurred three or four thousand years ago.

As Egyptologist Alan Henderson Gardiner wrote in 1966:

Even when full use has been made of the king-lists and of such subsidiary sources as have survived, the indispensable dynastic framework of Egyptian history shows lamentable gaps and many a doubtful attribution. If this be true of the skeleton, how much more is it of the flesh and blood with which we could wish it covered. Historical inscriptions of any considerable length are as rare as the isolated islets in an imperfectly charted ocean. The importance of many of the kings can be guessed at merely from the number of stelae or scarabs that bear their names. It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with a civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.

The tentative and fragmentary reconstruction of the past carried out by researchers, however well-intentioned and hard-working, doesn’t necessarily justify disregarding the historical accounts in the Bible.

These are actually only a few of the fascinating points raised by Mahoney in urging a reconsideration of the evidence for the Exodus of Israel from Egypt in ancient times. For thinking people with an open mind about ancient history, I highly recommend viewing Timothy Mahoney’s film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, and reading his book of the same title.

ARK — 2 April 2016

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Uh, no.

As readers here will already know, you can pretty much assume that any photo showing a giant skeleton unearthed at an archaeology dig is faked.

I ran across this photo at an article on Liberty Voice called “Giant Human Skeletons Discovered in Wisconsin?Liberty Voice‘s tagline is “Boldly Inclusive,” and I would venture to describe it as a little too bold and a little too inclusive.

Faked photo of a giant skeleton

This photo is faked. Note how the shadow of the archaeologist is cast to the left, while the shadow of the skeleton is cast in a different direction.

A few years ago, I ran an article here called “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?,” which has proven very popular with readers. That article showed that some of the best-known photos of giant skeletons at archaeological digs have been “photoshopped.” That doesn’t mean that giants never existed, but it does caution all of us to avoid being gullible.

The Liberty Voice article was mostly about the old stories of giant skeletons discovered in connection with the North American mound-builders, which I wrote about at “Did a Race of Giants Live Among the American Mound-Builders?” It’s possible that a race of outsized humans existed in prehistoric North America, but those giants for the most part were described as measuring six to eight feet in height, whereas the skeleton shown here would obviously come up to 25 feet or more. Nevertheless, the Liberty Voice writer says:

It seems that the majority of people just do not believe in this type of thing, because it sounds like complete nonsense. However photographs have been taken to record the finds as the picture with this article shows.

One reason it sounds like nonsense is because people keep reproducing these same faked photos. If you’re wondering how I know that this photo is faked, take a look at the shadow cast by the archaeologist in the original photo. Then look at the shadow cast by the skeleton in the section that was pasted in to create a phony scene. The shadows are cast in nearly opposite directions.

ARK — 1 June 2015

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Painting of an Egyptian Pharaoh

Egyptian Pharaoh, from a New Kingdom tomb painting. Credit: Jeff Dahl, via Wikimedia

Oxford Egyptologist Sir Alan H. Gardiner once wrote that “What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.”

Lately I’ve been writing about the authenticity of the Bible book of Genesis as an historical source. (See “When Did Moses (or Somebody) Write Genesis?“) Many people who consider themselves educated like to sniff that the chronology of ancient Egypt goes back before the Genesis dating of the great deluge at 2370 BCE. Therefore, they claim, Genesis must be fiction.

However, a more in-depth examination of the conventional chronology of Egypt reveals that it rests on fragmentary evidence. In fact, the uncertainties around the conventional Egyptian chronology illustrate the problems that exist in reconstructing the human past in general.

Egyptologist Alan Henderson Gardiner’s book Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction appeared in 1966.  Here is a more complete quote from that work:

Even when full use has been made of the king-lists and of such subsidiary sources as have survived, the indispensable dynastic framework of Egyptian history shows lamentable gaps and many a doubtful attribution. If this be true of the skeleton, how much more is it of the flesh and blood with which we could wish it covered. Historical inscriptions of any considerable length are as rare as the isolated islets in an imperfectly charted ocean. The importance of many of the kings can be guessed at merely from the number of stelae or scarabs that bear their names. It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with a civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.

For similar comments by University of Chicago scholar Helen J. Kantor, see my article “How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?” Kantor once wrote:

The evidence preserved to us by the passage of time constitutes but a small fraction of that which must once have existed. Each imported vessel from Egypt represents scores of others that have perished… The amount of information that can be extracted from such occasional articles as the scraps of harness from the tomb of Amenhotep II or the dog collar of Mahirper indicates how much has been lost.

For comments from Cambridge Classics scholar Moses I. Finley about the paucity of true documentation of Roman history, see “How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?” In discussing the documentary evidence from Roman history, Finley wrote:

For the whole of antiquity, in sum, what we have at our disposal (apart from Athens) is a scatter of documents from one end of the Mediterranean world to the other, the great majority of them isolated texts without a context …

History is in important and valuable area of study, but the reality is that history and chronology are often tentative and based on fragmentary evidence, regardless of the assertions of those who claim to have the official version of the truth.

ARK — 29 May 2015

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Artist's representation of a giant

Artist Marcia K. Moore has created some startling (but speculative) images, based on accounts about North American prehistoric giants.

In recent years, independent investigators have become interested in the claim that remains of gigantic humans have been found in association with some of the North American mound-building cultures. At the same time, self-styled “skeptics” have taken up the task of debunking these claims. (For an overview, see Nina Strochlic’s article in The Daily Beast: “Hunting for a Real-Life Hagrid.”)

I’m fascinated by the topic itself. But I’m also interested in these investigations and the reactions to them, as a cultural phenomenon. Why are people drawn to this idea of giants walking the earth, and why does the idea draw such rabid opposition? I think several phenomena are operating around this issue:

  • A long-time interest in giants within human culture.
  • A fascination with what I call anomalistics.
  • A particular interest in giants among adherents of Bible-based religions, due to the connection with the Genesis account of the Nephilim (see Genesis 6:1-4), a population of “mighty ones” who lived before the global deluge.
  • Among materialistic contrarians, a compulsion to contradict anomalistic and supernatural claims, particularly those that might lend credence to the Bible.

Not just a bunch of sensational newspaper accounts

A recent series of articles in Ancient Origins reminded me of the claims of prehistoric North American giants. The articles are written by Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer, who are investigating anomalous physical types reportedly found at archaeological sites of the Archaic and Early Woodland cultures of North America. Jarrell and Farmer say that for the past five years they have been undertaking fieldwork and scholarly research around sites in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. (See their articles here: “The Establishment Has Already Acknowledged A Lost Race of Giants – Part 1” and then “… Part 2.”

Jarrell and Farmer refer to the sensational 19th- and early-20th-century newspaper accounts you usually hear about in connection with the North American giants. However, they also cite a number of scholarly reports from government and institutional investigators, which are harder to dismiss. For example, they quote reports from University of Kentucky researchers William S. Webb and Charles Snow, who examined the Dover mound in Mason County, Kentucky and wrote:

The remains of burial 40 is one of the largest known to Adena; the skull-foot field measurement is 84 inches (7 feet)…

Not only do the Dover people show the results of head shaping (deformation), but they exceed the total Kentucky series in the great width and height of the skull vault!…it is to be noted that the head shaping…has been extreme in these skulls…These people as a group…have the highest skull vaults reported anywhere in the world…

One of the outstanding and un-Indian traits present among the Adena people is their prominent and often bilateral chins…One of the skulls from the Dover Mound, Burial 25…represents a bilateral chin with a width of 52 mm.

But where are the physical remains?

Doctored photo purporting to show archaeologists discovering skeletons of giants.

Doctored photo purporting to show archaeologists discovering skeletons of giants.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the investigations of the North American giants is the lack of physical remains available for study, at least today. Some researchers explain this paucity of remains with a claim that they were repatriated under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

I would add that cultural and natural processes also work against the preservation of human remains. Human bones buried underground usually don’t last very long unless they are intentionally protected somehow. This is particularly so in moist climates. Recoverable remains are inherently rare.

Anomalistic claims and investigations tend to bring out extreme reactions. Some people are willing to believe almost any extraordinary claim. As an example, take a look at the many comments submitted to my article, “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?,” in which I showed that some of the popular photos of giant skeletons have been faked. Even so, many readers persist in believing that the photos are authentic. At the other extreme are people who are quick to deny any anomalistic claim. The same article about giant skeletons also attracted some nasty trollish comments from “skeptics” who disparaged anyone who would take seriously the Bible’s accounts about giants.

Is a seven-foot giant really such a big deal?

Robert Pershing Wadlow

Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918-1940) suffered from a hormonal disorder and grew to nearly nine feet tall. via Wikimedia.

In reality, the claim that the prehistoric peoples of North American included a race of oversized humans doesn’t seem that extraordinary. For the most part, the newspaper and scholarly accounts describe remains between six and eight feet in height. This is well within the known human range. What’s called gigantism today is generally seen as a rare hormonal disorder, but it does show that a large human frame is physically possible. There’s no reason to think that extraordinary size couldn’t be passed along genetically and appear within a clan or even a wider population. In fact, this appears to have been the case among some Canaanite groups mentioned in the Bible — see the accounts about the Rephaim at 1 Samuel 17:4-7, 2 Samuel 21:16-22, and 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.

While a seven- or eight-foot human isn’t such an extraordinary idea, literature and popular culture have often propagated the idea that the giants mentioned in historical accounts were 20 feet tall, 50 feet tall, or greater. As I’ve pointed out before, humans of such sizes are almost certainly impossible due to the ‘engineering’ challenges involved — see “Could Giant Humans Exist?

It sounds to me as if enough written accounts exist to suggest that a race of giants could have lived among the ancient inhabitants of North America. It’s certainly worth investigating further, but it’s sure to be controversial. That’s the nature of anomalistics.

ARK — 24 May 2015

 

 

 

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Set of scrolls of entire Tanakh

Set of scrolls of the entire Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. Source: Pete Unseth via Wikimedia Commons

Here on this blog, I’ve written some pieces focusing on the authenticity (or the supposed lack thereof) of the Bible book of Genesis. (See, for example, “Writer of Genesis: Moses or Someone Else?,” “How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?,” and “How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?“) Here I’ll try to take up the question of when the book of Genesis was written, based on the timing of the Exodus, that is, the migration of the nation of Israel from Egypt.

The Exodus is often dated by scholars at about 1250 BCE. Others argue for an earlier date, perhaps 1450 BCE. An internal chronology of the Bible would place the Exodus at 1513 BCE and the writing of Genesis at about that time. This earlier date assumes that Genesis is authentic, and that Moses is an historical character and the writer of the book.

Is Genesis an accurate account of the beginnings of humanity and the Hebrew nation? I’m interested in the question as a spiritual person and as a student of ancient history. But more relevant to this blog, I’m interested as a writer of historical fiction portrayed in Biblical settings. My current series, The Cursed Ground, is set in the ancient world described in Genesis 1-11, the earliest times of humanity, according to the Bible’s account. One of the issues I struggle with is whether fiction based on that account can even be called “historical.” Much of conventional academia scoffs at the idea that Genesis is anything but a collection of myths and distortions.

Moses, the Exodus, and the writing of Genesis

I wrote awhile back about the identity of the writer of Genesis, purported to be the Hebrew prophet Moses. With regard to timing, the popular but hypothetical Documentary Hypothesis (DH — note the word “hypothesis” here) places the writing of Genesis during the early- to late-first-millennium BCE. The DH ascribes the actual writing to a compiler or group of compilers much later than the Moses portrayed in the Bible.

My previous article outlines the critique of the DH and its dating of Moses’ writing. Here I take up a critique of the popular 1250 BCE date for the Hebrew Exodus. This is important, because many archaeological researchers have based their investigations on that late date for Israel’s departure from Egypt. I’m not going to try to set out the entire critique here, but I do want to point out that such a critique exists. You’ll often hear negative assertions about the Bible’s accounts voiced by academics who stake a claim to the official version of the truth. Readers and students trust them and often parrot what they’ve heard from the experts. But it’s important for the thinking person to realize that there are substantial critiques to majority opinions. (See “The Way Things Are, the Way Things Were, and What Is True.”)

Internal Bible evidence pointing to an exodus in the mid-2nd millennium BCE

Drawing of Israelites crossing the Red Sea

Israel crosses the Red Sea after fleeing from Egypt. Source: Jim Padgett, Sweet Publishing, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The 1250 and 1450 BCE dates for the Exodus are widely referenced (sometimes 1446 or 1447 is used).

The ca. 1450 BCE date for the Exodus is based on an internal Bible chronology assuming that Solomon’s fourth regnal year was 967 BCE. The first book of Kings 6:1 says that year was 479 years after the Exodus, which would take us back to the 1450 date.

An alternative chronology places Solomon’s fourth regnal year and his starting the temple construction at 1034 BCE. Counting 479 years back from that point would yield the 1513 date for the Exodus. This 1513 date is determined by pinning the calculation to the year 539 BCE, a pivotal point widely supported as the year when Persian ruler Cyrus overthrew Babylon. The Jewish former exiles would have been back in Israel in 537 BCE (Ezra 1:1-3; 3:1). Working back from that year results in the 1034 BCE date for the beginning of temple construction, using the following internal Biblical evidence:

  1. Jeremiah 25:11 and Daniel 9:2 cite a 70-year period for the Jewish exile in Babylon, from 607 to 537 BCE.
  2. Ezekiel 4:5 counts 390 years from the division of Israel into a northern and southern kingdom, to its destruction by the Babylonians in 607 BCE. The division of the nation, then, would date to 997 BCE.
  3. 1 Kings 11:42,43 says 40 years passed from the beginning of Solomon’s reign to the division of the nation. Solomon’s first regnal year, then, would be 1037 and his fourth year 1034 BCE.

Thus, for those who don’t dismiss the account of the Exodus as a total fabrication, the hypothesized dates for the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt come down to two basic time frames:

  • The mid-second millennium BCE (ca. 1450 or 1513 BCE)
  • Or the mid-13th-century BCE (ca. 1250 BCE)

… or a difference of as much as 250 years. Such a discrepancy can make a lot of difference in the work of researchers who try to piece together the human past out of old inscriptions and objects dug up from the ground.

What’s wrong with the 1250 BCE date for the Exodus?

The 1250 BCE estimate for a Hebrew exodus from Egypt is still widely cited by academics, with Israel’s entry into Canaan following at the generally accepted date (GAD) of 1230-1220 BCE.

In 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Princeton University Press, 2014), archaeologist Eric H. Cline points out various problems with the 1450 date and writes:

[M]ost secular archaeologists favor an alternative date of 1250 BC for the Exodus, which ignores the Biblical chronology but makes more sense from an archaeological and historical point of view.

Along with many researchers, Cline bases this date in part on the Biblical reference to the city of Rameses, which he assumes to be the city of that name built by the pharaoh Rameses II at about 1250 BCE. He also thinks this date fits with the destruction a few decades later “of a number of cities in Canaan by an unknown hand,” possibly the invading Israelites. (Pages 90-92)

In spite of its popularity among academics, the 1250 BCE date has been questioned for many years.

Drawing from a tomb relief

A deputation of Asiatics visits Egypt ca. 1900 BCE. From the 1902 drawing of a tomb relief. Credit: NebMaatRa, via Wikimedia Commons.

In Biblical Archaeology Review in 1987, Trinity College lecturer John J. Bimson and Biblical scholar David Livingstone outlined some of the important objections to the 1250 date. (Full text available here for “Redating the Exodus,” BAR, Sep/Oct 1987.)

Bimson argues that the GAD of 1230-1220 for Israel’s entry into Canaan doesn’t fit the archaeological evidence. He also shows how the enslaved Israelites could have been involved in building a storage city at Rameses (Exodus 1:11) hundreds of years before the life of the pharaoh of that name.

Bimsom discusses archaeological evidence showing city-building and an extensive Syro-Palestinian presence in the eastern Nile delta during the Middle Bronze II period (MB II), generally dated from 2000 to 1550 BCE. This fits the Biblical chronology for the residence of Israel in that area. They could have been in that region at the same time as other Semitic groups, such as the Hyksos.

Some mid-20th-century archaeologists such as Nelson Glueck claimed that the ca.-1500 BCE conditions of settlements in Canaan and Transjordan didn’t fit the Bible account of the Exodus and the Israelite invasion over the following 40 years. Such migration could only have happened during the 13th-century, they claimed. However, Brimson shows that those archaeologists had jumped to conclusions. As often happens in archaeological investigations, they hadn’t found everything there was to be found. In archaeology, the next dig could always be the one that turns scholarship on its head.

It speaks well of Glueck that he changed his views once new information came to light. Brimson points out that not all researchers have been so reasonable:

The important point, which has been reinforced again and again in recent decades, is that Glueck’s initial conclusions were definitely wrong, and it is disappointing to find scholars citing them as if they were still valid evidence against an early date for the Exodus. All too often the 13th-century date for the Exodus has been perpetuated by the baseless repetition of outmoded views.

Can it be “historical fiction” if it’s based on Genesis?

This article has grown long, and the truth is it could have been much longer, because there’s a lot to say about the dating of the Exodus, the life of Moses, and his writing of Genesis. The main point here is that there is good reason to doubt the often-cited date of 1250 BCE for the departure of Israel from Egypt, much as researchers might like to refer to that date as if it were indisputable. There is, in fact, a good argument to be made for the dating of the Exodus about 250 years earlier, around 1500 BCE.

This, in turn, speaks to the authority of the book of Genesis as an historical source — and worthy of consideration for those of us who are writing fiction based on its accounts.

ARK — 8 May 2015

 

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Book cover for Children of the KeepterSince publishing Book 1 of The Cursed Ground, I’ve started to get questions from readers about the world the story is set in. I like to let the story tell itself, so I avoid including a lot of backstory in the narrative. But for those who are interested, I thought I would set out some of the very broad concepts behind the fictional world I’m using.

Just to note, I’m releasing The Cursed Ground as a series of five shorter books. Book 1, The Child-Stealers, is already on the market, and Book 2, Children of the Keeper, is slated for release on May 5, 2015.

In terms of genre, I conceive of The Cursed Ground as historical fiction. However, the book might fit better in the market category of historical fantasy. I don’t use magic or the uncanny (much) in the story, but I admit to speculative elements, simply because the historical period I’m dealing with is understood only in general terms.

Here’s a bit of the big picture. The Cursed Ground takes place on the Earth, but at a remote time period when:

  • Humans commonly live for hundreds of years.
  • Cultural memory is very stable, because the long human life-span allows considerable overlap among generations.
  • All humans speak the same language (well, almost all — you’ll have to keep reading to get to that).
  • The names of people and places all have an understandable meaning, because of the common language and durable cultural memory. For that reason, all names in the story have a meaning in English, since that’s the language I’m writing in.
  • The human population is expanding rapidly into many millions.
  • Human civilization and technology have reached a level of development much higher than the modern world might expect.
  • The world is becoming increasingly violent and unstable.
  • The world is facing a major extinction event, but no human knows it.

A writer of speculative fiction must undertake a considerable task of world-building. In conceiving the world of The Cursed Ground, here are some of my assumptions about how the story fits into our understanding of the human past:

  • The story is broadly based on the account given in the Biblical book of Genesis.
  • Genesis is taken as an accurate historical and cosmological account, but not necessarily in the way that is often presented by religions of the world.
  • The story assumes a very old Earth, but a relatively young human race.
  • The conventional academic historical chronology is assumed to be accurate only back to about the mid-second millennium before the common era (BCE).
  • The methods used to date all kinds of objects that researchers dig up from the ground are probably only accurate back to about 4,000 years before the present (BP). The older an object is, the greater the likelihood that the ascribed date is off, perhaps by orders of magnitude.
  • During the early history of humankind, rainfall did occur on the Earth. This is a detail that matters, as many Bible readers take the view that it had never rained before the global flood. In the world of The Cursed Ground, Genesis 2:5,6 refers to a much earlier phase before the appearance of humans.

Here are some other articles I’ve written that might shed light on these various assumptions:

I recognize that many of the assumptions I’ve mentioned here could spark controversy. I don’t mind discussing my rationales, but in the end I’m writing a story, so I don’t intend to get into ideological arguments with people who disagree with the way I’ve built the world of The Cursed Ground. It’s fiction, after all.

ARK — 24 April 2015

 

 

 

 

 

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