CHAPTER 5

HISTORICAL DATING METHODS

Accurate dating is very important. I went to Dr. John McAndrews, a curator of botany at the Royal Ontario Museum, and we discussed carbon 14 dating:

EF: Sometimes you get some very random dates, don't you?

Dr. John McAndrews(JMcA): The material to be radiocarbon dated, let's say a piece of charcoal, is burned and the carbon dioxide collected from the burning and put into a counting chamber. And the number of disintegrations of carbon 14 in this carbon dioxide are counted and compared with a modern standard. The proportion of the carbon 14 in the fossil is compared with the modern, and this is an index of the age of the sample.

Let's just take the most extreme, the worst case, if you like. The site was only occupied for 100 years, yet the radiocarbon dates indicate a life of perhaps 2,000 years. How can this come about? There's two examples I could give. The anomalously young dates could be caused by a tree growing on the site, the rootlets of this tree having modern carbon could have penetrated the archaeological charcoal. These rootlets weren't completely removed before the sample was radiocarbon dated, thus yielding an anomalously young date. Now let's take the anomalously older dates. The inhabitants of the site were probably, just for the sake of argument, burning wood. They could have chosen a tree for burning in their hearth that had been a thousand years old and they could have chosen the centre of the tree to burn in their hearth. That was the handiest wood. So that the radiocarbon dating of a bit of charcoal from the centre of this thousand-year-old tree that they had burned in the hearth would give them a radiocarbon date of a thousand years too old. These are ways of getting anomalously young dates and anomalously old dates.

My comment:
This would be very significant I think for prehistorians who are concerned when they feel they have a difference of a hundred years in dating from one level of a site to another. But from our general point of view, when we are looking at the broader picture as to whether Eden at 4000 B.C. is older or younger than, say, one of the sites that we've already discussed which is dated approximately 5700-6000 B.C., then perhaps that is not so significant for us. And, of course, there are other dating methods that are very accurate. There is varve analysis, which is based on lake levels of water, that's quite accurate and can be brought to the present. There are also datings using tree rings, dendrochronology, as it's called. By cutting across a tree you can read the rings because every season is different and leaves its own pattern on the tree. And then you can match that with an older tree, and that with a still older tree, so you can get back, in the case of Sequoia pines, Bristle cone pines, to 5,000 years ago, in fact even longer ago than that if you take trees that are already dead and match with them. You can match that with ancient wooden artifacts, which means you can get quite a way back. We can go into the past beyond that again by the potassium argon method, which provides dating much earlier.

There are other things I find interesting, such as neutron activation analysis. You can take something like, for example, obsidian, or pottery, analyze it, and from its characteristics, something like a fingerprint, you can determine where the source was. That enables you to trace the trading patterns between these ancient sites because we can say, aha, this clay for this pottery came from X site, which is so many hundred miles away, and it was traded to such-and-such a site, which is somewhere else. This is how ancient trading patterns can be identified.

What I like about C14 dating is that it's not subjective, like the method of dating sites by pottery styles. A typical heading for a list of C14 dates is this:

Dates are quoted in standard form: years before 1950, 5568 half-life; calibration after Clark 1975. R. = Radiocarbon reference.

In case you think the two ancient sites we discussed in chapter 4 are a local phenomenon, let's consider more evidence. Here are some C14 datings for other sites in the Near East (the Levant is the eastern part of the Mediterranean area, its countries and adjacent islands):



You'll have noticed that all the dates are BC, and that the most recent is 7845. The spread of uncertainty is generally small, and has no effect on our discussion here. These are all sites with evidence of human habitation and activity.

And in the Palestine/Israel/Caananite region, where Jericho is, just north of the Dead Sea:



we find that Jericho began as a village somewhere around 11,000 BC and had become a town by about 8,000 BC with a stone wall and a 30 ft. tower with an internal staircase, which has been excavated. Here's the evidence to prove it:



If you should think that this is still only the Near East, and what about the rest of the world, we're told by archaeologists of western Europe that by 8,300 BC people were crossing into the area we now know as Britain, settling mostly in the east and south there. Around 6,500 BC the English Channel is said to have been formed. While the earliest people were hunter-gatherers, by about 4,000 BC farming had developed with large hill-top enclosures such as Windmill Hill in Wiltshire, England. To show you how extensive development had become in Western Europe, here's a map indicating various forms of activity:



Domesticated goats are known to have been present at Jericho and Jarmo by 6,500 BC. Jarmo dates back to about 7000 BC. It's one of the oldest neolithic village sites to be excavated. Its location is in northern Iraq in the foothills of the Zagros mountains. There were approximately 100-150 people living there with 20 permanent houses which had mud walls, stone foundations, and reed bedding. They reaped grain with stone sickles, had domesticated sheep and dogs as well as goats. They grew emmer and einkorn wheat, barley and lentils. Many of their tools came from obsidian bedrock some 300 miles away.

Since Jericho and Jarmo are about 500 miles (850 km) apart, and both had domesticated goats, I rest my case that the historical record shows much human activity and development before 4,000 BC across the expanse of the Near East, which means that the wording in Genesis chapter 2 about the second Creation and Eden cannot be taken at face value as we have it in English translation. With that conclusively settled we can now turn to the real purpose of this investigation, which is: was there an Eden, and if so where was it?

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