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orion-list Radiocarbon

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Returning to the topic of radiocarbon dating and the Scrolls, 
there is no way the existing data on the texts, if accurate,
can be harmonized with a 63 BCE terminus for the scrolls.  
Although I suggested this in a previous post, if it was not 
direct enough I wish to make the point explicit here.  The 
calibration curve between 55 BCE and 85 BCE is essentially
flat, at about 2075 +/- 20 throughout these three decades.  
This means any texts from c. 85-63 BCE should all yield 
the same measurement, c. 2075 +/- 20, within margins of 
error.  (Older than 85 BCE the calibration curve rises.)  Any
texts which measure significantly less than c. 2075 +/- 20
are therefore indicating younger than 63 BCE.

Five texts did measure significantly below 2075 +/- 20.  
These are:
 1QH                    1979 +/- 32
 4Q266 D(a)         1954 +/- 38
 4Q258 S(d)         1823 +/- 24 (#1)/ 1964 +/- 45 (#2)
 4Q171 pPs(a)      1944 +/- 23
 4Q521 MessAp   1984 +/- 33

It can be seen that these numbers are not consistent with the
calibration curve level at 85-55 BCE.  These cannot be explained
as random scatter.  On the hypothesis that many or even most
of the 19 Qumran texts had true dates in the years 85-55 BCE
(and none younger) one would expect somewhere between 
only 0 and 1 texts to give numbers like the above--but not five.
Five of this kind of number is about 4-5 too many.

(The reason I spoke in earlier discussions on orion in terms 
of possible compatibility between 63 and these dates was 
because of an error in interpretation of the regional offset issue.
I was using calendar years instead of radiocarbon measurement
years for the c. +/- 20 location-offset possibility.  This is a 
technical point and if anyone is truly curious as to the details 
of my error contact me offlist.  It can be seen from the numbers
above that even a 20 offset will not bring the five dates above 
into possible agreement with c. 2075 +/- 20.)

The conclusion is: there is no reconciling the above data with 63
BCE on the assumption that these are accurate measurements.
But now I wish to address a question to Tim Jull, if he is listening.
In fact, although many in the Qumran field perceive differently,
there is no basis to know of post-63 BCE text activity among the
Qumran texts other than these radiocarbon dates.  There is a
story that seems plausible to many surrounding 68 CE, but that
is as strong as the positive case is for post-63 BCE.  It therefore 
becomes critically important to evaluate the meaning of this
radiocarbon data rightly.

You have rightly noted that it is improper to reject data points
without cause.  Yet if I may turn the question around, is it safe
to believe all unexcluded data points in terms of deep and
far-reaching historical conclusions?  Here is the problem.  
Among the 19 Qumran texts given AMS datings, 2 of these
(4QTQahat at Zurich; 4QSd at Tucson) appear to have had 
problems in their datings.  In neither case was the contam-
ination, if that is what it was, that caused these results 
detectable or visible to either lab under microscope.  If this
is the case with 2 datings, what is the proper evaluation of
the remaining 17 in terms of drawing historical conclusions?
How does one determine the latest date of floruit of an 
archaeological assemblage or floruit or cluster from a battery
of AMS datings?  (In this case, the latest known Qumran 
text production.)  What are the right methods to use and 
what kind of "latest-date" estimate based on the existing 
Qumran AMS data is produced by correct methods?    

Greg Doudna

Gregory L. Doudna
Reseach Associate
U. of Copenhagen Dead Sea Scrolls Initiative
KÝbmagergade 44-46                                       tel: (45) 35 32 36
1150 KÝbenhavn K                                          fax: (45) 35 32 36
DENMARK                                                       email:

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