Fire and collapse: Untangling the formation of destruction layers using archaeomagnetism

Ruth Shahack-Gross*, Ron Shaar, Erez Hassul, Yael Ebert, Mathilde Forget, Norbert Nowaczyk, Shmuel Marco, Israel Finkelstein, Amotz Agnon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Historical events are sometimes expressed in destruction layers. We present here a study in which aspects of construction, destruction, and chronostratigraphy of fired mud bricks were explored using archaeomagnetism, infrared spectroscopy, and micromorphology. We measured 88 oriented samples mostly collected from one stratum, dated ca. 1000 B.C.E., representing a destroyed late Canaanite (late Iron Age I) city in Tel Megiddo, Israel. Firing temperatures, evaluated from infrared spectroscopy, micromorphology, and high-temperature magnetic susceptibility cycles, range between 300°C and 800°C. Samples studied in one archaeomagnetic site yield a single stable magnetization vector in demagnetization experiments. Archaeomagnetic site means of three standing walls are grouped near the expected direction of the ancient geomagnetic field. We propose that walls in the destruction layer were constructed from sun-dried mud bricks that later burned during the destruction. Collapsed bricks and tilted walls show variable directions, diagnostic for the relative timing of collapse and cooling of bricks, during and following the destruction event. In addition, we attempt to assign stratigraphic affiliation based on archaeomagnetic considerations to standing walls, which are spatially disconnected from the studied destruction layer. Altogether, this study demonstrates the usefulness of archaeomagnetism to understanding site formation processes related to fire and destruction.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)513-528
Number of pages16
JournalGeoarchaeology - An International Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by an Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 1181/12 to A. Agnon and Grant No. 463154 to R. Shaar), and a European Research Council Advanced Grant No.229418, titled “Reconstructing Ancient Israel: The Exact and Life Sciences Perspective,” directed by Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Steve Weiner of the Weizmann Institute of Science (where Ruth Shahack-Gross acted as the geoarchaeology track leader). FTIR and micromorphology analyses were conducted at the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science, Weizmann Institute, Israel. We acknowledge Hillel Lachmi and Ittai Eden for collecting the samples and conducting the measurements of wall MGDF, and Kate Raphael, Avishai Abo and Eli Ram for dedicated assistance in sampling. We wish to also thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor who handled this manuscript for their thoughtful comments that helped us improve this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • FTIR spectroscopy
  • Megiddo destruction layer
  • archaeomagnetism
  • burnt mud brick walls
  • micromorphology


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