Ancient jars found in Judea reveal Earth's magnetic field is fluctuating, not diminishing
Albert Einstein considered the origin of Earth's magnetic field one of the five most important unsolved problems in physics. The weakening of the geomagnetic field, which extends from the planet's core into outer space and was first recorded 180 years ago, has raised concern by some for the welfare of the biosphere.
|Stamped handle from Ramat Rahel [Credit: Oded Lipschits]|
"The field strength of the 8th century BCE corroborates previous observations of our group, first published in 2009, of an unusually strong field in the early Iron Age. We call it the 'Iron Age Spike,' and it is the strongest field recorded in the last 100,000 years," says Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of TAU's Institute of Archaeology, the study's lead investigator. "This new finding puts the recent decline in the field's strength into context. Apparently, this is not a unique phenomenon -- the field has often weakened and recovered over the last millennia."
Additional researchers included Prof. Oded Lipschits and Michael Millman of TAU, Dr. Ron Shaar of Hebrew University, and Prof. Lisa Tauxe of UC San Diego.
Delving into the inner structure of the planet
"We can gain a clearer picture of the planet and its inner structure by better understanding proxies like the magnetic field, which reaches more than 1,800 miles deep into the liquid part of Earth's outer core," Dr. Ben-Yosef observes.
|Jar from Ramat Rahel with stamp impressions on two different handles [Credit: Oded Lipschits]|
"The period spanned by the jars allowed us to procure data on Earth's magnetic field during that time -- the Iron Age through the Hellenistic Period in Judea," says Dr. Ben-Yosef. "The typology of the stamp impressions, which correspond to changes in the political entities ruling this area, provides excellent age estimates for the firing of these artifacts."
To accurately measure the geomagnetic intensity, the researchers conducted experiments at the Paleomagnetic Laboratory of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California San Diego, using laboratory-built paleomagnetic ovens and a superconducting magnetometer.
"Ceramics, baked clay, burned mud bricks, copper slag -- almost anything that was heated and then cooled can become a recorder of the components of the magnetic field at the time of the event," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "Ceramics have tiny minerals -- magnetic 'recorders' -- that save information about the magnetic field of the time the clay was in the kiln. The behavior of the magnetic field in the past can be studied by examining archaeological artifacts or geological material that were heated then cooled, such as lava."
|Concentric incision on jar handle from Ramat Rahel [Credit: Oded Lipschits]|
Observed changes in the geomagnetic field can, in turn, be used as an advanced dating method complementary to the radiocarbon dating, according to Dr. Ben-Yosef. "The improved Levantine archaeomagnetic record can be used to date pottery and other heat-impacted archaeological materials whose date is unknown.
"Both archaeologists and Earth scientists benefit from this. The new data can improve geophysical models -- core-mantle interactions, cosmogenic processes and more -- as well as provide an excellent, accurate dating reference for archaeological artefacts," says Dr. Ben-Yosef.
The researchers are currently working on enhancing the archaeomagnetic database for the Levant, one of the most archaeologically-rich regions on the planet, to better understand the geomagnetic field and establish a robust dating reference.
Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University [February 14, 2017]