The Earth's magnetic field in Jerusalem during the Babylonian destruction: A unique reference for field behavior and an anchor for archaeomagnetic dating

Yoav Vaknin*, Ron Shaar, Yuval Gadot, Yiftah Shalev, Oded Lipschits, Erez Ben-Yosef

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Paleomagnetic analysis of archaeological materials is crucial for understanding the behavior of the geomagnetic field in the past. As it is often difficult to accurately date the acquisition of magnetic information recorded in archaeological materials, large age uncertainties and discrepancies are common in archaeomagnetic datasets, limiting the ability to use these data for geomagnetic modeling and archaeomagnetic dating. Here we present an accurately dated reconstruction of the intensity and direction of the field in Jerusalem in August, 586 BCE, the date of the city's destruction by fire by the Babylonian army, which marks the end of the Iron Age in the Levant. We analyzed 54 floor segments, of unprecedented construction quality, unearthed within a large monumental structure that had served as an elite or public building and collapsed during the conflagration. From the reconstructed paleomagnetic directions, we conclude that the tilted floor segments had originally been part of the floor of the second story of the building and cooled after they had collapsed. This firmly connects the time of the magnetic acquisition to the date of the destruction. The relatively high field intensity, corresponding to virtual axial dipole moment (VADM) of 148.9 ± 3.9 ZAm2, accompanied by a geocentric axial dipole (GAD) inclination and a positive declination of 8.3̊, suggests instability of the field during the 6th century BCE and redefines the duration of the Levantine Iron Age Anomaly. The narrow dating of the geomagnetic reconstruction enabled us to constrain the age of other Iron Age finds and resolve a long archaeological and historical discussion regarding the role and dating of royal Judean stamped jar handles. This demonstrates how archaeomagnetic data derived from historically-dated destructions can serve as an anchor for archaeomagnetic dating and its particular potency for periods in which radiocarbon is not adequate for high resolution dating.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0237029
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2020 Vaknin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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