Many of you are probably familiar with the arguments revolving around the high and low chronology of Israel during the Iron Age. In a nutshell, the two major points that are argued are the arrival of the Philistines and the date of the Iron Age IIA. The “traditional” high chonology places the arrival of the Philistines in the early part of the 12th Century BCE, and the Iron Age IIA begining in the 10th Century (e.g. Mazar, 1997, Levant 29:157-167). The low chronology places the arrival of the Philistines in the later part of the 12th Century BCE, and the onset of the Iron IIA in the early 9th century BCE (e.g. Finkelstein, 1995, Tel Aviv 22/2:213-239). The Low Chronology’s major claim is that in between the end of the “Classic” Late Bronze Age and the arrival of the Philistines, there is an additional period of time that separates the two. This period is many times linked with Lachish Level VI, as this is a major site involved in the discussion. The claim of the supporters of the Low Chronology is that since no Myc IIIC monochrome pottery (the trademark of the earliest stage of the Philistine settlement) appears in this level, which dates to the first half of the 12th century, the monochrome pottery (and in turn the Philisitnes) must have arrived at a later stage. The traditional chronology, in turn, explains that there is a possibility that the Myc IIIC pottery is contemporaneous with this level, but it is not found at Lachish, since Lachish was within the area under Egyptian control, and the people in this area were antagonistic to the Philistines (e.g. as suggested by A. Mazar), or that the Myc IIIC pottery was an ethnic marker that did not cross boundaries out of the Philistine-controlled region (as suggested by Bunimovitz and Faust, 2001, BASOR 322:1-10).
So why is the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavation so important to this subject?
Well, first I will just quickly mention that the Iron IIA levels that have thus far been uncovered at Tell es-Safi/Gath are quite important to the argument, but I will leave that to others. Just take my word for it that the vessels pictured above play a major role in this discussion.
In recent analysis of the stratigraphy and pottery of the Late Bronze Age, we have found that we have uncovered a small portion of a level that is equivalent to Lachish VI, above our primary LB level seen in the pictures below.
We also know that we have Myc IIIC levels waiting to be excavated, as we have recovered a substantial amount of this type of pottery in surveys and in largely unstratified contexts. In the forthcoming seasons we will uncover the levels with Myc IIIC pottery and with the “Lachish VI” pottery and see if they are found in the same level, or in different ones. If they are from the same, we will have shown that the High Chronology is correct, but if the Myc IIIC pottery is only found in the layer above the “Lachish VI” pottery (our stratum E4a), then the Low Chronology will be supported. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see if we can answer this question, and needless to say, take part in the excavation that seems to be the “Key” to solving this discussion.