The work of archaeology in Jerusalem is changing with the current national political situation and the use of new scientific tools. Three religions have an interest in Jerusalem. Judaism has great interest in the Western Wall. Islam is very concerned about the Dome of the Rock. Various Christian sects express interest in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The obstacles to progress in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem are many and quite complex. First, the Israel Antiquities Authority controls all Jerusalem excavations. They will not give any permits to Palestinian teams and rarely grant permits to foreigners.
In Jerusalem, the chief building stone was a relatively soft limestone that was easy to quarry and got harder when exposed to the air. This stone was reused over the centuries by tearing down the remains of an ancient culture and using the limestone for new construction, leaving little evidence of the past. There was virtually no wood in the area, so standard dating methods like dendrochronology and carbon 14 were impossible.
Another problem with archaeology in Jerusalem is that treasure seekers used violent and unscientific methods as these untrained people pillaged the area. They were often looking for an item claimed to have mystical powers, such as the Ark of the Covenant. Dreams of wealth and notoriety were their goals.
Still complicating the situation is that while early archaeologists were Christian believers who saw archaeology as a means to verify the integrity of scripture, modern archaeologists are “overwhelmingly made up of agnostics and atheists.” They have often allowed their personal beliefs to attach a negative bias to whatever artifacts they find.
Despite these challenges to archaeology in Jerusalem, researchers are progressing in understanding the city’s history thanks to new scientific tools. Geomagnetic instruments with great sensitivity allow researchers to use changes in the Earth’s magnetic field to date some artifacts accurately. New laboratory techniques enable researchers to learn from tiny bone fragments and detritus that reveal the diets and diseases of people in the past. Much of archaeology in this century is going on in the laboratory, where scientists analyze the uncovered artifacts.
Archaeological work is hard, but Webster defines “science” as “knowledge,” and new scientific techniques provide us with knowledge. That knowledge continues to support the accuracy of the biblical narrative. While nationalism, politics, and Zionism complicate archaeology in Jerusalem, the unfolding story supports the accuracy of the Bible. The science of archaeology must be supported by the facts, not the opinions of archaeologists.
— John N. Clayton © 2022
Reference: Article on Jerusalem Archaeology by Andrew Lawler in the April 2022 issue of Scientific American.