Merneptah Stele Full View

Merneptah Stele

Archaeological evidence is, unfortunately, fragmentary, and therefore limited. This has always been true, but in recent decades this simple truth has impressed itself more forcefully on archaeologists working in the field and, consequently, on historians.

Typical archaeological finds such as pottery sherds, modest mud houses and simple crafts appear inadequate to the task of sophisticated historical inquiry. How, for example, may the historian understand complex social transformations, market shifts in ancient economies, or religious and ideological innovations, given the rudimentary evidence discovered at archaeological sites in Israel and Jordan? An archaeologist may feel lucky if on a given day he or she finds the following assemblage on a floor- a few cooking pot rims, a ceramic lamp, an unidentifiable piece of corroded metal and a bone awl. What, however, can such finds tell us about social structure, economic trends, or the political and religious diversity of ancient history?

One result of this problem of fragmentary archaeological evidence has been that archaeologists have tried to squeeze as much information as possible, in as much detail as possible, from what we do excavate. Now we collect vast amounts of data, including not only artifacts and architecture, but animal bones, carbonized grains and seeds, soil, pollen and metallurgical samples.

Read the rest of Archaeology and the Biblical Text in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.