Scholars of ancient Israel have been arguing for the past decade over whether David and his son Solomon were really the great founders of the ancient kingdom of Israel, as the Bible says, or largely mythical figures. Now archaeologists claim that the first carbon-14 dates from a site dating to the 10th century B.C. come down on the side of a real King Solomon.
A team led by Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem dated olive pits and charred grain from a major "destruction layer" at an Iron Age site called Tel Rehov in northern Israel. The results place the layer between 940 and 900 B.C. That fits nicely with a whirlwind plundering tour of Palestine by the Egyptian Pharoah Shoshenq, a well documented historical event that occurred shortly after Solomon's death.
Mazar says the date, which is published in the 11 April issue of Science, indirectly nails down the link between Solomon and the remains of monumental architecture that have traditionally been ascribed to his era. That's because other sites in Israel that contain remains of "Solomonic" palaces and gates have already been established as contemporaneous with the Tel Rehov site.
"The implications are enormous for recreating the history of ancient Israel," says archaeologist Lawrence Stager of Harvard University. The conventional version has been strongly challenged in recent years by scholars who claim that the palaces attributed to Solomon were actually built a century later. The leading proponent of this view is archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, whose interpretation of pottery assemblages and other evidence has persuaded him that "Solomonic" layers actually date to the 9th century B.C. That would rob David and Solomon of their monumental surroundings and hence much of their reputation as nation builders. "Some Israelis think that the very foundations of Zionism's claim to the land have been undermined" by Finkelstein's chronology, says archaeologist William Dever of the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Stager says that Mazar's study "puts the nail in the coffin" of Finkelstein's theory. Finkelstein disagrees, claiming he will be publishing carbon-14 dates from other sites that contradict Mazar's data.