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Re: orion 14C and falsifiability

It is a pleasure to read Paul Sodtke's lucid and clear summary of the 
radiocarbon issues.  Thank you Paul, for getting it straight.  :-)

It is ironic that (in my opinion) radiocarbon is really the only path 
to go for scrolls dating information next to internal dateable text 
references, yet I also don't think single 14C dates, considered in isolation, 
are trustworthy in an absolute sense--because there are simply too 
many things that can go wrong, even slightly, with any individual 
date.  Quantities of high-quality measurements will give the contexts 
and data to yield information.  Each battery's data adds not 
just cumulatively but exponentially to real information by giving 
not only its own dates but increased context for interpretation of 
previous data.  Reasonable minds will disagree on interpretation--
one might think as an analogy of reasonable minds in the Qumran field
disagreeing on readings of specks and letters of texts.  The 14C data, 
however, is produced independently of the Qumran scrolls field.  
These measurements are apart from our interpretation or arguments.  
This independent input from outside the scrolls field--the AMS 
measurements--this obtaining of objective numbers (I almost 
wax lyrical here, in my 19th century optimism as to what science can 
offer!)--this is the advantage.

It is like the discovery of a new ostracon or text.  Once a good 
photograph is published, we can fight over what the correct 
readings, or reconstructions in lacunas, or interpretation or 
translation might be.  But the artifact--that is the data, and its 
discovery gives a resource, something new, that wasn't there before.  
Sometimes new information means learning more about what was 
known.  Other times learning means calling into question what 
was thought to be known.  Either way, it is exciting and an 

I think of radiocarbon dating and the scrolls like the old saying 
about democracy--its the worst form of government there is except 
for all the others.  Any individual radiocarbon date, I believe, can 
hardly be weighed as stronger than a "maybe"--though several 14C 
scrolls dates, such as 1QIsa(a) (replicated almost identically by two labs 
independently) and Zurich's 1QH date (in which Zurich replicated 
measurements from two samples from different areas of the same text, 
each with a check for contamination) can well be argued to come 
close to "almost secure" standalones.  

This reluctance--on my part anyway--to consider single dates 
as absolutes means, among other things, that the several 14C 
dates which seem inconsistent with palaeographic date estimates--
one notices 4Q266 and 4Q267, for example (exemplars 
of CD), or Zurich's date for 4QLevi(a) that is significantly older 
than Greenfield and Stone's recently published palaeographic date 
estimate in DJD XXII--these 14C dates do not, in themselves, in 
my view, falsify Cross's different palaeographic date estimates.  
I do not think the Tucson 1QpHab date, in itself, should be wielded 
like a club against Robert Eisenman, for the same reason.  If we get 
three or four consistent and independent dates of the same type of 
scripts in the same direction--then maybe we can start talking about 
learning something new.  But not now, not yet.

Nor do these AMS measurements and date ranges spit out year, month, 
day, morning or afternoon.  Nor will the radiocarbon method ever 
be able, for example, to distinguish a 90 BCE text from a 160 BCE text--
because those particular decades (but not the decades in between) each 
had the same amount of atmospheric radiocarbon--i.e. the same levels 
on the calibration chart--and hence any text from either of those decades 
will always register both possible decades in their calibrated date 
ranges, every time (and the true date is not found by splitting the 
difference and concluding the date is therefore "probably" in the middle, 
c. 130 BCE!)

So there are limitations.  I see no other way than to intelligently 
accumulate further high-quality data designed to answer questions.  
By piling up data--say three or four 14C dates for specific script 
types as a start--then there is something to begin to work with.  
With the Zurich and Tucson data there is a start.  I urge us all to 
avoid the twin pitfalls of rejection of the utility of gathering the data, 
or of assuming premature conclusions in the absence of an adequate 
database.  That goes for me as for anyone.  Someone mentioned 
"escaping" Copenhagen.  I view Copenhagen as a place I escaped 
to, where it is possible to pursue this exciting work.  Thank you!

Greg Doudna