In a groundbreaking new project, scholars are using the rich archaeological remains that soar more than 50 feet above the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel to synchronize the clocks of the ancient world and create the first definitive calendar of human history.
More than a century of excavations has revealed a complex network of houses, stables, temples and palaces protected by massive fortifications and watered by two natural springs.
The treasures discovered at the site have posed as many questions as they have answered about the history of the ancient world. A vast, centuries-old temple deep within the mound is the largest yet discovered from that period in the Levant but its purpose and rituals -- including several large, perfectly round black stone altars just a few inches high -- are unknown.
It was around this time that stone inscriptions and records on clay tablets and papyrus began to record human history in the area. The Bible, the most monumental work of all, emerged during this period. Early archaeologists used the Bible as a guide, relating their finds to events described there and allocating them to biblical figures.
Now Finkelstein, together with Tel Aviv University physicist Eli Piazetsky, is spearheading an international effort to settle the chronology once and for all. A scientific conference at Megiddo, "Synchronizing Clocks at Armageddon," launched a project to analyze 10 separate Iron Age destruction layers using four state-of-the-art scientific techniques: radiocarbon dating, optical luminescence, archaeo-magnetism and rehydroxilation -- a new method pioneered in Britain within the last two years.
Megiddo is the only place in the world with so many destruction layers -- archaeological strata resulting from a calamity such as a fire, earthquake or conquest -- that resulted from a specific event in history.
Finkelstein told AOL News that the site provides "a very dense, accurate and reliable ladder for the dating of the different monuments and the layers."
"These destruction layers can serve as anchors for the entire system of dating," Finkelstein said. "Megiddo is the only site which has 10 layers with radiocarbon results for the period 1300 to 800 B.C.E."
Scientists hope that by analyzing the archaeological strata they can nail each layer to a specific year or decade, using the physical data from Megiddo to set the clocks of history and create a definitive timeline that can be used as a basis for accurately dating all archaeological sites.
"For many years the traditional dating of strata in the Levant were about 100 years earlier than that of the Aegean. There was similar pottery that we date to the 10th century and they date to the ninth. The question was, who's right?" said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, director of the excavation at Tell es-Safi, believed to be the ancient city of Gath, home of Goliath.
"The problem is that the Aegean does not have an independent chronology for the Iron Age," Finkelstein said. In the absence of a historical record, dating of pottery from ancient Greece has relied on Greek pottery found in Middle East excavations. New doubts cast by Finkelstein about the dating of sites in Israel have thrown the ancient Greece timeline into further disarray.
The new project will take samples from Megiddo and other sites where dates are fairly certain and subject them to a battery of four different scientific tests:
Radiocarbon, or carbon-14 dating, measures the decline of a naturally occurring radioisotope to fix the date it was deposited at the site. It can be used for animal remains, plants and even olive pits. But it cannot determine the age of inorganic material like pottery; some materials, including wood, can give false results; and it requires a complex statistical calibration that on 3,000-year-old items produces inaccuracies of up to 300 years.
Archaeo-magnetism measures changes in the Earth's magnetic intensity and magnetic north over centuries to date pottery and cooking ovens. Optical luminescence is in its infancy. It measures the effect of the sun's rays on quartz particles to determine when certain minerals were last exposed to sunlight.
Rehydroxilation is a method recently developed in Britain that measures the amount of moisture absorbed from the atmosphere by oven-fired clay. Experiments suggest that it can accurately date bricks and pottery from 50 to 2,000 years old. The team has taken some 5,000-year-old pottery samples back to the lab at Manchester University to see if they get similar results.
"Making the various tools for dating archaeological finds more accurate is very important," said Maeir, whose own excavation is part of the project. But he warned that rehydroxilation may not provide magic answers. Like carbon-14 dating, it involves a statistical manipulation that is likely to result in similar disputes between scholars.
"If they did reach a clear-cut model which would be agreed upon by the overall majority, it could have a whole slew of historical implications," he said. "It changes your understanding of what was going on from a political, from an economic point of view at these various sites. This could in theory have very broad implications for our ability to interpret the historical scenarios."