Digging Through Layers
When you think of an archaeological site, you need to think in terms of layers, kind of like layers on a cake. And each layer is a different time period, so as you’re digging down—especially in cities—through the layers, you want to be able to date each stratum (layer). There are various ways of doing this.
Archaeologists get very excited about pottery as very few people elsewhere in the world do because it’s one of our main ways of dating. The primary reason archaeologists use pottery is that it changes over time, but slowly enough in antiquity for each layer to be associated with particular kinds and shapes of pottery.
Archaeologists get very excited about pottery as very few people elsewhere in the world do.
We can also use large architectural remains. Sometimes we have inscriptions to help us understand what layer we’re in as we go layer by layer. In the New Testament period, especially, these things can be very accurate, but they also give you a range of dates, so you have to be careful.
There’s always subjectivity involved in dating things. People often want archaeology to be a purely objective discipline. We’re always interpreting, but we’re doing so in a collaborative environment with other archaeological digs that are coming down on the same materials and relating our dates to other dates and similar strata.
- 10 Things You Should Know about Biblical Archaeology (David W. Chapman)
- An Interview with the Editors of the ‘ESV Archaeology Study Bible’
- How to Incorporate Biblical Archaeology into Your Preaching (John D. Currid)