Home > Austria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Science, United Kingdom > New radiocarbon-based chronology of ancient Egypt refines scholars’ previous estimates

New radiocarbon-based chronology of ancient Egypt refines scholars’ previous estimates

HAIFA (Press Release)–An international team of scholars from Israel, the United Kingdom, France, and Austria have presented a comprehensive radiocarbon-based chronology of dynastic Egypt, spanning two thousand years. This marks the first time that high precision radiocarbon dating has been used so extensively for this specific purpose in the context of this ancient civilization.

In an article published this week by Science, the team led by Prof. Christopher B. Ramsey of the University of Oxford reports that they employed Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Radiocarbon dating of short-lived plant material from reliable contexts and interpreted them with sophisticated statistical modeling. This enabled them to confirm the validity – previously unconfirmed independently – of over a century of Egyptian chronological research.

“This new, validated chronology has far-reaching implications for Middle Eastern and eastern Mediterranean archaeology,” says Dr. Ezra Marcus of the Recanati Institute of Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa, Israel, who participated in the project alongside a team of international scientists.

Until now, chronological research largely relied on ancient astronomical observations to anchor the millennia-long list of Egyptian kings and dynasties. However, the absence of any reliable evidence for the location and quality of these observations resulted in a long-lasting scholarly debate over when precisely that anchor should be placed.

The current research, funded largely by the Leverhulme Trust, UK, involved the radiocarbon dating of over 200 radiocarbon samples, the results of which were input into a statistical sequence that relied solely on the order of kings and dynasties and the known lengths of their rule – and not on information about when this ordered sequence occurred in time. The results showed conclusively that scholarly dating of the Egyptian historical sequence has in fact been correct, with some room for minor adjustments. 

As the Egyptian historical chronology is the backbone for the archaeology of the entire eastern Mediterranean, these results have dramatic implications for research of all contemporary cultures in the Levant, Cyprus, and the Aegean. 

Dr. Marcus of the University of Haifa contributed research on the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, sampling papyri with inscribed dates and other finds from museums in Berlin and New York in a project funded by the German-Israel Foundation for Research and Development.

“Here in Israel and in neighboring countries, archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Ages relies heavily on Egyptian finds for providing an absolute or calendrical chronology for what we discover. The results my colleagues and I have presented offer an important baseline for comparison with radiocarbon analysis carried out on samples from Israel and elsewhere, particularly those from contexts that also contain Egyptian artifacts,” notes Dr. Marcus.

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Preceding provided by University of Haifa

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